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As I rounded the corner to the dining room the energy was almost insurmountable. The excitement had been building for weeks among Elders and Stakeholders of Lee County Care and Rehabilitation regarding their opening day performance of Wendy’s Neverland. Finally, their hard work was about to pay off as they gathered to prepare for their first show. Please understand they had been waiting for over a year for this moment.

Just glancing around the room, it wasn’t hard to miss the Elder’s smiles and absolute laughter. In the corner of the room there was a long line of Elders and Stakeholders who were waiting to get their faces painted before donning their costumes and taking their spots on the floor to practice the final scene which just happens to be a wheelchair ballet.

In the flurry of excitement Mattie, an Elder who wasn’t performing in the production at all stopped me to discuss all the happenings that were taking place around us. As I sat down to chat with her, I could see a sparkle in her eye that told me she approved of all of this. Mattie and I had gotten to be friends on my first day at Lee County and we had gotten accustomed to having somewhat of a daily conversation. Staring straight into my eyes she said, “This has been such a good thing for all of us. It really gives me hope for the future.” When I questioned her about what she meant by that she looked at me with all sincerity and said ‘it gives me hope for growing older. I am no longer afraid to get old!” 

Many people are caught up arguing about the effectiveness or even the sustainability of such an ambitious project. Just the bold idea of bringing a team of professional artists into our community to engage our Elders and Staff into a full 75-minute production that has turned into a musical seems almost preposterous to many. With the help of a CMS grant, we were able to dive into the unknown to see what could happen. What followed took my breath away.

In my heart I always knew it was possible. I knew that if we could only activate the imagination of our Elders and Stakeholders, then they could experience together a new place they’ve never been. I knew deep down that creating an atmosphere where play and creativity were alive would spark something meaningful. What I was unprepared for was how large it would really become.

The magic. The magic that is activated among the audience when they start to believe that anything is possible for our Elders is the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed. The transformation that takes place among the Elders as they evolve into their parts. The recognition that they WANT the community to believe in them. All of it creates an atmosphere that is rich with something I can only describe as euphoria.

On our last day at Lee County, Judy, an Elder in the wheelchair ballet grabbed my hand to share with me that she was thinking of being the tin man in their next production, The Wizard of Oz. It was then that I heard the Stakeholder who was her partner in the wheelchair ballet say, “yes and I will carry your heart”. Her statement brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart all at once. Yes, carry her heart so that the world knows it is there. Just believe.

If you haven’t joined us yet, there are only a few more chances. Our next round of performances will be taking place June 1-4 at Signature HealthCARE at Sunrise Manor in Hodgenville, Kentucky! Join us if you can. I promise it is worth the trip.