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Willamette View seniors explore coral reef with students

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Residents at Willamette View watch as Maddy turns bubble wrap into jellyfish.The best thing about the intergenerational art program featuring the collaboration between senior residents at Willamette View retirement community and students from Oak Grove Elementary School is watching relationships develop, said Kristen Larsen, one of two art therapists at Willamette View.

“We are working with the same kids and the same residents and I like seeing everyone loosen up and have fun,” she added.

Larsen and her fellow art therapist, Sally Giles, have wanted to develop this kind of activity, and when the opportunity came to partner with the elementary school, they were happy to make it happen.

“The collaboration is between Willamette View and our Metropolitan Family Service Community School at Oak Grove Elementary. Chelsea Lamb is our community involvement specialist at that site. She is coordinating the interface with the art therapists at Willamette View, and is responsible for getting the kids involved and transporting them to Willamette View for the project,” said Pat Kaczmarek, marketing and communications manager, for Metropolitan Family Service.

Metropolitan Family Service is the provider of this Child and Family Enrichment community school program; funding for the CAFE Program comes from 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the North Clackamas School District and Clackamas County, Kaczmarek noted.

“We thought we should tap into the resources we have around here, and we wanted to have the seniors interact with the kids in a different environment. I see a different side of them when they come here,” said Lamb, who is in her second year with Americorps at the school. “The kids get to express themselves artistically and they know they are ambassadors of Oak Grove Elementary. They enjoy this facility. They are polite and they feel responsible and respectful.”

The theme for the artwork the eight students and eight senior residents are making centers around healthy communities, so the group decided it would be fun to make a coral reef, showing the diversity of life in an aquatic community in a healthy ocean, Lamb said.

The group has created colorful fiber anemones, and last week students and seniors were painting and constructing jellyfish, complete with tentacles.

“Many of the seniors are grandparents, and like the youthful feeling of children being artistic, and many of the seniors are really artistic. The kids enjoy their time here and have said it goes by really fast,” Lamb said.

Maddie, who is in the fifth grade, said she likes communicating with the seniors and doing art with them.

She was sitting next to Olivia, 9, and resident Jean Gammon, who were painting bubble wrap to make jellyfish.

“I have grandchildren this age, and just coming down helping with their projects gives me ideas for working with my grandchildren,” Gammon said.

“It is wonderful to have two generations working together; we each see how much the other can do,” said Marjorie Kaufman, another resident, who was helping Jimena, 10, with her jellyfish.

The three elementary school boys, Chase H., Chase W. and Jesse, were having a ball daubing paint onto Bubble Wrap and drying it with a hair dryer, before cutting it into tentacles.

Watching the process was Irene Anderson, who said, “I’m 93, and it’s good that the kids realize I can still do things. Art keeps us active, and I consider that a bonus, and the instructors are wonderful.”

Generation collaboration

At the beginning, Larsen and Giles were not sure how to structure the sessions with the students and seniors, but it has gotten easier, Larsen said.

“The kids challenged some of my assumptions; they are more interested in the seniors’ lives than I thought they would be, and having the healthy community theme has made it easier for people to connect,” Larsen said.

The eight fourth- and fifth-grade students go to Willamette View four times during a two-month session, spending an hour and a half at the facility. Although there is no art teacher at Oak Grove Elementary, the teachers do art in the classroom and the afterschool CAFÉ program does have an art teacher, so the 80 students in that program have artistic opportunities every other day, Lamb said.

The program is grant-funded through the end of the school year, she noted.

Larsen described her job as an art therapist as her dream job, and said she and Giles developed the studio where the collaborative program takes place.

She added, “Not many facilities have two full-time art therapists who run a program. In this community, many residents lead workshops; we incorporate a lot of talent that is here.”

When the collaboration is finished for this school year, Larsen noted, the finished reef, complete with anemones, jellyfish and other sea creatures will be displayed at Oak Grove Elementary in May, as part of an art showcase event.



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