Students transform seniors’ lives with art and music

September 14, 2017

By Cari Hyden

Art
 
Mrs. Jones, a resident at Westmore Senior Living, wouldn’t leave her room and spent her days largely “staring at the walls.”

But a class led by a UNTHSC student transformed her life and added a spark to the lives of many more Westmore Senior Living residents.

Flora Park, a Medical Sciences graduate who is completing a one-year integrative physiology research track, put together a class to teach Westmore residents how to paint.

The class got Mrs. Jones, whose real name is withheld for privacy reasons, out of her room and socializing again, said Albertha Johnson, Director of Activities.

There are more success stories. Two residents became so enthusiastic about learning to paint that they purchased their own brush sets.

One resident said she had always drawn with pencils, but never worked with acrylics.

“But it’s easy with the students teaching us,” she said. And her creations impress her daughter, who “confiscates my paintings and hangs them in her office. She’s proud of her mom.”

And then there’s the resident who stopped painting years ago and had no interest in picking up the pastime again, despite his caregiver’s encouragement. Now he buys his own canvasses and paints daily in his room, gifting friends and family with his artwork.

That makes Park happy.

“I love that they take the energy and vitality from our sessions and carry that over into their lives,” she said.

Park started the program because she enjoys volunteering.

“I wanted to hang out with elders, and I wanted others to have the opportunity to do that, too,” she said.

Park began nine months ago by recruiting fellow students to perform musical programs for various nursing homes and retirement centers for a Christmas-themed concert. The directors at Westmore Senior Living requested monthly music programs.

“The seniors really liked it, and the students had fun,” she said. “We started taking requests from the audience when we ran out of songs we knew.” Requests often meant looking up unfamiliar songs quickly on their phones. But now the students are learning songs from the musical The Sound of Music and The Beatles—both hits with the seniors—so they have a full repertoire for each concert.

The musical sessions were such a success that the center asked Park to add a painting class for the residents. Then a second painting class.

Johnson said, “The students do an excellent job teaching these classes. We will support them in whatever they need. I have a closet full of supplies, and if the students need anything else, we’ll get it for them.”

So Park now manages the two painting classes and the musical performances. That’s five sessions in all per month. She isn’t required by her academic and research programs to volunteer—she just loves it.

“When I finish a volunteer project, I ask myself, ‘Where can I volunteer next?’” she said. “One of the reasons I wanted to attend UNTHSC is because ‘serving others first’ is among the core values.”

Park grew up volunteering and did so throughout her undergraduate years at Baylor University. As an honor graduate, she was required to write a dissertation.

So she helped design a study to assess the prevalence of lead poisoning in children from a rural area of Kenya and the potential relationship between blood lead levels and body mass index in children. Park had learned about the issue the previous summer when she volunteered to help a graduate student who was studying the area’s water quality.

Soon, she’ll be applying to medical schools.

If she leaves the Fort Worth area, she will be missed by everyone at Westmore Senior Living.

“Our residents look for Flora even on the weeks when we don’t have class,” Johnson said. “It’s a relaxing time for them, and they can express themselves through painting.

“She will make a great doctor one day.”

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