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Seniors Strut Their Recycled Stuff at Fashion Show


Having no experience creating artwork over the course of her life, Carolyn Owens naturally questioned her abilities.

“I’m not very artistic,” she said.

However, a recent project she participated in at CJE SeniorLife’s Adult Day Services (ADS) in Evanston has her thinking otherwise these days.

“I made a dress and a hat from paper plates, straw and beads and it looked pretty good,” she said with a smile. “Watching everyone work, having a team to help me out, it was so much fun. I feel so good. It was great.”

Others like Owens are thriving through the creative arts. Nearly 40 seniors at the ADS center, who range in age from their early 60s through 90s, many of whom have early- to mid-stage memory loss or some degree of frailty, participated in a fashion show on May 26, to showcase the wearable art they had made from recycled goods over the course of several months.

Amy Cronk, a master’s degree art therapy intern from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was the mastermind behind the project. She hoped participants would create fashions that brought out aspects of their personality which may have been clouded over by Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias.

“Working with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is challenging, especially since they tend to forget what they’re working on mid-project,” she said.

Seeing the participants ham it up and strut down the runway in their vintage treasures and eco-friendly creations – hats made out of used carnival tickets, skirts from painted paper plates, walkers covered with hand painted recycled burlap, pink feather boas and dresses made from old newspaper clippings – it was evident that Cronk’s vision had been realized.

Art therapist Ralitza Vladimirov, who has overseen the creative arts therapy program at ADS for 10 years and supervised Cronk on the project, explained that the artwork itself becomes a visual reminder which stimulates the impaired short-term memory.

“For the older adult, the creative process can become a new place of wholeness, where creative images unite thoughts, feelings and behavior, while offering tremendous possibilities for memory recall,” said Vladimirov.  “Whether it’s through dance, drama, music, poetry, or in this case hands-on artwork, the creative arts process works to unify all parts of the being.”

As her final endeavor at ADS, Cronk was overjoyed to see the members so engaged by her project.

“It means the world to me to be able to inspire people, to get people excited about art and creativity, especially people who had never experienced art in this way before,” she said.

The feelings are apparently mutual. Following the fashion show, ADS Director Judy Holstein gave a farewell speech, thanking Cronk for her dedication and hard work.

“Amy has brought out the imagination in all of us with her art,” said Holstein.

No sooner, Holstein was interrupted mid-stream by ADS participant Moe Lord, who voiced his compliments from across the room.

“She brought out the love in me,” he shouted affectionately, as fellow participants nodded their heads in agreement.

And just for good measure, Lord added, “Don’t forget, you’ve got the best of my love, kid.”

CJE’s Adult Day Services, with locations in Evanston, Deerfield and downtown Chicago, provides care, support and programming for individuals who may be frail, isolated or lonely or those with early- to late-stage dementia. The supervised, structured programs address physical, cultural and emotional needs through creative activities and socialization, while providing a needed respite for family caregivers. For more information, call 773/508-1000.

Article by Monica Lozano

 CJE SeniorLife




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