While Creative Action’s mission is to spark and support the academic, social, and emotional development of young people, our work doesn’t end after students turn 18. In fact, one of our community-based programs, Continuing Creativity, focuses on supporting the creative and social needs of our neighbors who are young “at heart.”
Engaging the Senior Community in Storytelling
Continuing Creativity is designed for adults ages 65 and up to engage them and teach them new skills through a curriculum that incorporates creative writing, storytelling, and community-building games.
Christie Jean-Jacques, Creative Action’s School and Community Outreach Coordinator, leads the class of seniors. Beyond the classroom, she takes time to check in on participants throughout the week by joining them for lunch or visiting with them on the phone.
“We live in a time when senior citizens are often not recognized for their value,” Christie said. “It’s the way our culture has developed, and we’re missing out on the knowledge they bring to our community. The Continuing Creativity program brings their voices to the forefront by allowing them to share their stories with pride, not only with each other but with everyone who they interact with.”
How It Works
Each class begins with a review of the schedule so participants can prepare for the day. Christie leads a brief warm-up exercise, giving each participant five minutes to respond to a prompt, usually surrounding a simple but thought-provoking inquiry, i.e. “describe a time where you recently felt motivated.”
The class then stands up for a light physical warm-up to music, before playing a memory or quick-thinking game. Finally, participants begin working on their current “big” project, which may include interviews, deep listening activities, class poems, poster dialogue, and more.
One recent project involved the seniors pairing up as pen pals with some of Creative Action’s elementary-aged after school students from a nearby HACA site. Paired pals wrote letters and sent art to one another, with both sets of students showing their enjoyment throughout the process and verbalizing the new things they learned from one another. The pairs also enjoyed co-writing stories, with seniors drafting the first half and young students writing the ending.
Christie has experienced many outstanding moments while leading the program, but one of her favorite stories revolves around a Continuing Creativity participant she calls Ms. Vincent.
“When Ms. Vincent (who was 86 at the time) first came to the Continuing Creativity story-gathering class, I quickly assumed she wouldn’t be returning,” Christie said. “She slumped down in her chair and frowned throughout the hour, only responding with occasional grumbles of discontent. She begrudgingly stood and participated in word association activities when the air-filled beach ball was passed to her.
“How wrong I was! Ms. Vincent not only returned the following week, but every single week after. She would even drive herself if she missed the community van!
“She soon began smiling and chuckling in response to others’ jokes and silly stories. She proudly gave permission for me to recite a poem she’d ‘accidentally written’ in response to a childhood memory. If she didn’t hear or understand something, she loudly asked for clarification and would ‘look out for’ the other participants if they seemed to have confusion about an assignment.
“By the end of our four months together, Ms. Vincent had shared openly about her divorce, multiple miscarriages, family customs and values, unfulfilled dreams, proud accomplishments, and work history. It was hard to get her to stop talking by the end.
“At our final class sharing, she wore a beautiful blouse and wig. She smiled at the donated photos displayed of her in younger years. She rose to her feet to proudly recite her lines, though we’d never rehearsed standing! Needless to say, her classmates began to follow by her example.
“This is the end of our fifth semester of classes together, and at 88 years old, Ms. Vincent is still a faithful leader in the group.”
Another notable moment for Christie involves a class participant who suffered a stroke ten years ago. Since joining the program, she has regained the physical ability to hold a pen and write through class activities. She has attended classes for two years now, and is excited that her once perfect handwriting is nearly back to normal.
Know someone who may be interested in receiving Continuing Creativity programming?
Christie encourages readers to tell the seniors in their lives who may be interested in a creative social outlet to contact her or our Director of Community Engagement at 512-442-8773 x123. To learn more about the program and to preview next semester’s programming, check out the Continuing Creativity page.