Intergenerational art project sparks childhood memories for Regina long-term care residents

Students from a Regina elementary school helped seniors in long-term care combat the health impacts of isolation by engaging them in conversation and creating art based on their memories.

Students and seniors bonded through conversation and art

Prapti Ghelani, a student at Ethel Milliken School in Regina, constructs a memory box dedicated to a senior at a long-term care facility. (Carlie Brentnell)

Students at a Regina elementary school used art to helped rekindle memories for seniors in long-term care.

The art project helped seniors and students connect to each other during the pandemic, a time when social interaction was limited for both.

A Grade 7 and 8 class from Ethel Milliken School took part in Hello In There, a program by Common Weal Community Arts. The not-for-profit organization works to create social change through art.

The program, which usually involves artists working one-on-one with seniors in care, was adapted by artist Yasmin Dar for the pandemic to be a virtual classroom art project.

Areesha Hashmat said she and senior Javonne Miller both love to play badminton. (Submitted by Common Weal Community Arts)

The program was created to combat the mental health impacts of isolation on seniors.

"As soon as COVID started that need and the amount of isolation that individuals were experiencing just amplified," said Shaunna Dunn, the outgoing southern artistic director for Common Weal Community Arts.

"So we were really looking at how can we still connect with individuals in long-term care, especially when they're feeling additionally isolated."

Connecting through conversation

Residents at the Extendicare Sunset long-term care facility were paired with one or two students.

The students each received a file containing biographies collected by the care home and met virtually with the seniors to learn more about them.

After the video chat, students created a memory box based on the seniors' stories.

Willam Carlson said he put his heart into creating this memory box for Elsie Lampard, who shared stories about her love of gardening and living on a farm. Carlson said both he and Lampard have a love of 'dad jokes.' (Submitted by Common Weal Community Arts)

Grade 7 student Willam Carlson created a memory box that he describes as "very green," including a garden and farm animals. The senior he spoke to, Elsie Lampard, told him about her time growing up on a farm, including making her own toys.

"I really hope that she likes it, because I tried my best and I feel like I did my best," Carlson said. "I put heart into it and I just hope she feels appreciated and very welcomed and loved."

Memories sparked

Dar gave students everything they needed to create their visions. She said she was impressed by the thought each put into their art piece.

The seniors were impressed too.

"That was very nice. It brought back old memories, very nice memories," said Audrey Osojnik.

Mary Elder was delighted when she saw the memory boxes created for her by two students and said she wanted to show her great-grandchildren. (Submitted by Common Weal Community Arts)

Mary Elder laughed as she looked at the details in her box: a dog beside an organ, chickens, a rolling pin and baked bread, a certificate recognizing her life spent as a nurse. 

Elder expressed how she wanted to show it all to her great-grandchildren the next time they video chatted and thanked the students behind the creation. She teared up as she recounted her life on the farm.

Generation exchange

Some of the students based their memory boxes off personal connections with the senior, like sharing the same favourite sport or colour.

Many learned that although generations apart, they had a lot in common.

Kate Hanwell said she connected with Audrey Osojnik despite the age gap because they both played in the same basketball tournament. (Submitted by Common Weal Community Arts)

Kate Hanwell created a memory box for Audrey Osojnik, with figurines playing basketball. It reflected how Osojnik used to play basketball when she was Hanwell's age. 

Hanwell said they both played in the same tournament.

"You never really think about the people in those type of facilities, so it was nice to talk to them and know they had some stories to tell," said Hanwell.

"I really enjoyed talking to them. You never really think of seniors as being, like, really lively or anything. So it's nice to know thatwhen I get to that age, you know, she was just so full of life. And so it was really nice to see that." 

The experience made Grade 8 student Prapti Ghelani appreciate how generations before her lived.

"You get to make your own food and you get to go to farms and grow food," said Ghelani.

Prapti Ghelani said she and Vilma Blake both loved the colour green and the same subjects in school. (Submitted by Common Weal Community Arts)

The art project was a one-of-kind experience for the students, according to both Hanwell and Ghelani.

"I have definitely never done anything like this. It was probably my favourite art project, just because you get to be so hands on, and actually meet and talk to the people that you're working with," said Hanwell.

Art Advocacy

Shaunna Dunn, who co-ordinated the project, said she's seen the positive impact the program has had over the years on seniors' emotional well-being and their cognitive abilities.

"Individuals who are experiencing depression might suddenly have something that they're looking forward to each week, and feel they have a voice," said Dunn.

"I've seen those really big shifts, just through a seven-week connection with an individual who's there to listen to them, and to give them space to have their life validated."

She said this speaks to the need for this kind of program and art in long-term care homes.

Dunn said she hopes the intergenerational aspect this year had a lasting impact on not just the seniors, but the students too.

with files from Candice Lipski and Janani Whitfield