Connecting with the Community

The following is a post written by a student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts, our new interdisciplinary course. This semester students are collaborating with Wisdom Keepers club members, one of the U-M Geriatric Centers Mild Memory Loss Programs.             Take a look!


Every Wednesday, I work with a wonderful community member that loves sharing her passion for storytelling and helping the community.  She has tremendous ambition and goals regarding things she would like to do to help people in her community.  Specifically, she is interested in helping patients at Mott Children’s hospital.  She has thought of all sorts of ideas from making blankets or bed pads, to seeking out U of M athletes to visit the children and pass out signed photographs.  Her passion for the community seems to stem from her desire to connect with others.  She connects with people by using one of her greatest strengths—her voice!  This community member is extremely articulate and vocal.  More often than not, she is found walking around Wisdom Keepers or sitting at our table storytelling and talking.

As we create things, she continues to tell stories of family, friends, recent events, and new projects she has been thinking about.   This community member’s stories always have one thing in common—laughter!   One day, she shared a story with me about spotting an injured deer on the side of the road.  She saw a truck drive up and a person jump out to pick up the deer and put it in their truck bed.  She was so moved by this.  She thought, “How sweet! That person is taking that poor deer to the vet!”  Later, she told a friend the story of the wonderfully kind people that helped the deer.  The friend replied, “Honey, they were not helping that deer—they were going to eat it!”  The community member and I had quite a laugh about that!

As I have gotten to know my community member, I have realized how important it is to observe and become aware of your specific member’s expectations of this process.  I have addressed this by listening and understanding her project ideas and adapting them to fit our skill set and time constraint.  Further, as we have become more comfortable around one another, I’ve learned how to give her what she needs.  For example, I can sense when she needs someone to listen and engage with her or when she needs a bit more direction from me.  This experience continues to be a hilariously fun time and an opportunity for personal growth!  I am excited to continue working and getting to know my community member.


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

Funded by the University of Michigan Transforming Learning for Third Century (TLTC) Quick Wins grant program, this semester we are offering a new course that brings together students and professors from across campus.

Uniquely engaging U-M academic institutions and the U-M Health System, Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts builds an understanding and awareness of the complexities of memory loss and introduces the use of the expressive arts. For the past month, students have met with specialists in neurology, public health, social work, and the arts to learn about the scientific basis of memory and dementia, the societal basis of dementia, and institutional projects to support individuals with memory impairment.  Students have also been exploring their own creativity through painting, storytelling, and drumming.

Partnering with University of Michigan Geriatric Centers Mild Memory Loss Programs, students have been paired with a Wisdom Keeper club member to explore the potential of the arts to serve as an outlet for expression and to learn from shared experiences.   In the coming weeks, students will be collaborating with the Wisdom Keeper members on a variety of creative experiences.  Please stay tuned as students will be sharing their insights and lessons learned in future posts.

Anne Mondro, Associate Professor, University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design