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Peter Pan once said, “It is not in doing what you like but in liking what you do that is the secret to happiness.” Today these words resonated with me like never before. Today I was given the gift of seeing a dream come to life before my eyes. It reminded me with every breath that I love what I get to do.

In 2010, I can recall sitting in a session at Pioneer Network led by Anne Basting on her newest idea, The Penelope Project. The idea of bringing creative engagement through the arts and storytelling to Elders living with dementia resonated to my core. I hoped that one day I could be part of such a journey.

Fast forward 8 years and I found myself standing in the middle of a room at Signature HealthCARE at Sunrise Manor watching as Elders begin to imagine what community is to them. After 2 years of planning, this week we are launching “I Won’t Grow Up” through a series of artist residency days at three of our Signature HealthCARE homes!

This morning, a team of artists gathered to begin driving across the state to lead workshops at 3 different locations: Signature HealthCARE at Sunrise Manor, Morgantown Care and Rehabilitation and Rockcastle Care and Rehabilitation.

Although the team of artists is comprised of some of the most talented artists in the nation, they also have a heart that beats to touch the core of our communities. The team is Kevin Iega Jeff (Chicago) as choreographer, Jeff Becker (New Orleans) as set designer, Nicole Garneau (KY/Chicago) as production manager, and Dr. Anne Bastings (Milwaukee) as lead artist. Additionally, we are blessed to have local artists in residence who are engaging the community at large in the work we wish to accomplish. They are Cheyenne Mize (Louisville, KY), Andee Rudloff (Bowling Green, KY) and Bob Martin (Brodhead, KY).

Iega and Cheyenne engaged the room with a combination of movement, playing musical instruments, storytelling, and song. Looking around the room I watched as Elders raised their arms as high as they could to demonstrate their flight or tapped their foot on the floor because their arms wouldn’t work any longer.  All I could see were smiles on each and every face! The power of their own imaginations carried them past a place of disease or pain. It brought them to a place of joy and contentment in the moment; allowing them to forget about current situations.

They went through a series of movements with Iega in which they used shakers to mirror each other’s movements. One partner would lead as if an intricate dance were taking place that only the two could imagine. Cheyenne led us through the creation of a new song, one that used their own words. It was both beautiful and touching, adding joy to the morning’s events.  In the afternoon, Cheyenne taught us how to tell a story through the use of instruments. The Elder’s had such joy in playing instruments and imagining what sound they made.

Standing in that room 8 years later, I had tears of joy streaming down my face. I looked at the person beside me and said, “That’s what real Quality of Life looks like”. It was true. Just being part of a day in which creativity began to bubble up in our Elders was a beautiful experience. To watch them truly engage with such joy and happiness touched my very core. The possibilities are limitless as they begin to create original stories, songs and artwork.

The project itself focuses loosely on the story of Peter Pan. It adds a framework of familiarity to enable them to launch with creative focus and gives them a place to start channeling their creativity through.

As the day’s events came to a close, one Elder summed it up best. When asked what he thought of the day he said, “I can’t sing but I can play the drums!” I think that gives the best synopsis of the day.  He was teaching us not to focus on what he couldn’t do any longer but to focus on what he could do! Yesterday people may have focused on his disease but today they focus on the joy that he is a drummer. It is a sweet reminder that we can be whatever we want to be at any age.

Stay tuned as we visit Morgantown Care and Rehab on Wednesday for a visual arts workshop!