We’d like you to meet Ms. Betty Ussery. She is an 87-year-old pillar of East Austin and a dedicated leader of Continuing Creativity — our free, community-based art program for older adults. Growing research shows that regular creative activities promote social, physical, and cognitive health among older adults. For six years, Ms. Betty and her classmates have engaged with us in creative writing, storytelling, visual art, creative movement, and community-building activities.
Ms. Betty grew up in the neighborhood called Masontown and had her first baby at age 14. While parenting 7 children, she worked as a nurse’s aide and later, a supervisor for The Austin State School, caring for mentally and physically disabled young people for 20 years. Following an injury, she worked for Goodwill Industries while running her own bar/music venue in East Austin. She continues to work as a regular volunteer and leader for East Austin’s Blacklands Neighborhood Association and the Alamo Recreation Center, where she and her peers learned about Creative Action and joined Continuing Creativity more than 5 years ago.
We are grateful for Ms. Betty, but not only for her enthusiasm to try anything in class. Ms. Betty always makes certain her fellow class members are accounted for and informed of what’s happening next in the program, even during the past year of remote participation. This was a challenging year for all our participants, but thankfully, we’ve kept in contact through weekly phone calls, regular socially distant visits from the car or on the porch, and project kits to inspire imagination and creativity from home.
Continuing Creativity During the Pandemic
Continuing Creativity has always emphasized listening, supporting, and uplifting participant voices. We’ve worked to continue this practice during the pandemic and this winter/spring we explored how to find joy and beauty in our home spaces. Each older adult participant received a project kit with activities and supplies to create original art pieces for a collaborative community displayed on our “Community Porch” at the Alamo Rec Center. The displays, like ‘What Does Hope Look LIke’, share artwork and stories based on the class members’ most treasured objects as a way to safely “invite” the community in without physical visits.
Right now, we’re helping these students explore their artistic visions to bring more art, color, and functionality to their own porches and front yards. Each class member identified a small home beautification project this spring that we will assist with – from artwork for their gardens and porches to installing birdhouses, repainting porch chairs, and re-organizing/decluttering spaces.
Ms. Betty and Community Porches
Ms. Betty and her oldest daughter, Carolyn, are eager to begin! These two older adults live together and use their home as a donation site for community outreach. Their front porch is regularly filled with products to be picked up by community volunteers, such as adult diapers, linens, toiletries, and more. These items take up much of the porch space and present a safety hazard for both Ms. Betty and her family members. Ms. Betty and Ms. Carolyn’s goal is to reorganize this space with some new storage pieces to make their porch a more functional and creative space.
As we dive into these “Porch Projects” with Continuing Creativity participants, we need specific donations to help bring their visions to life! Currently, asking for the following items:
- A shelving unit (up to 3’ 1’’ across) and storage baskets OR A large storage box seat (younger family members can use as a seat)
- A glider (6’ across) and/or 2-4 porch chairs for the family to enjoy
- Volunteers with landscaping experience or ability to assist with porch and basic yard clean up
If you can donate, volunteer, or get involved, with this project, please contact Christie Jean-Jacques, Program Director for Continuing Creativity at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On behalf of Ms. Betty and our Continuing Creativity class members, we thank you for your support! Your in-kind donations will make a huge impact for these community heroes!