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Creative Aging at Mamie George Community Center


A self-portrait montage from the MGCC Creative Aging Program participants.

A self-portrait montage from the MGCC Creative Aging Program participants.

Living Arts program supports better aging, better health and a better life for seniors in Fort Bend County

The energy in the art room at the Mamie George Community Center (MGCC) is effervescent and palpable. The seniors here aren’t shuffling around mindlessly or mumbling to themselves. They are interacting excitedly and talking to each other in happy, bubbly tones that light up their faces and animate their movements. The scene is inspiring and uplifting, unlike many places where seniors gather in this stage of life. So what’s the secret here?

“It’s Creative Aging,” says Terri Beiber, program coordinator for the Creative Aging Program at the MGCC in Richmond.

The Creative Aging Program taps into a nationwide movement, spearheaded by the National Center for Creative Aging, to publicize the importance of art in older people’s health. Research by geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Gene Cohen was a catalyst for the national center. Cohen’s results, published in 2006, indicated that senior adults engaged in art had better physical and mental health, including fewer hospital stays.

“You can’t worry about something while you crochet because you’re constantly counting. It’s great therapy,” said Beverly Claborn, 67, as she spread her latest creation, a bed scarf, across one of the tables at the Mamie George’s art center. She is a Creative Aging participant and volunteer, teaching crochet a few times a week to the other seniors.

At another table, Patricia Hayes, 60, flips through her art journal, a notebook stuffed with collages, poetry, sketches and photographs. On one page, Hayes pasted in the quote, “It’s not the age, it’s the attitude.” On another, she wrote the names of her daughters, granddaughter and siblings in cursive.

“I’m thrilled because this is the first time I ever did anything like this,” said Hayes, one of about 24 artists, all age 60 or older, recently crowded into the bustling art room at MGCC Richmond. They participate in the Creative Aging Program, which started last July at the center, operated by Catholic Charities. Through the program, seniors can take classes in poetry, dance, drama and fine arts.

“This isn’t just macaroni necklaces. It’s not like they’re stringing pony beads together and staying busy,” said Bieber, who has a background in arts education and nonprofit administration. “This needs to be more about realizing, ‘I’m creative.’ ”

The MGCC serves as a hub for Catholic Charities services in Fort Bend County. The center addresses many of the community’s needs, with an emphasis on low-income residents and seniors. As life expectancy increases, more attention is being given to the meaning and purpose of later life and the greater benefits of health-sustaining activities. The Creative Aging Program at MGCC aims to meet the developmental needs of older adults through creative engagement and self-expression.

The program benefits older adults whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics or disability. A full discipline arts education program, it is designed to provide life enhancing opportunities to support seniors in their efforts to stay healthy and active, to build friendships and to live independently for life. The program is offered daily to provide seniors with a variety of fine arts and social opportunities. Components include visual art classes, theater and drama workshops, dance, music, creative writing and expressive arts programming. The richness of each component is enhanced via collaborations with local art organizations, art specialists and community groups to support a professionally delivered, meaningful and impactful art experience.

The Creative Aging Program was implemented at MGCC as a Senior Health and Wellness Program in September 2014. Within 18 months, the program grew from 12 creative and fine arts activities per month to more than 60 per month in an effort to meet the needs and demands of Fort Bend’s rapidly growing senior population. The program will expand as the community grows, and will thrive as partnerships develop and campaigns build awareness for the positive impact the arts have on senior health and wellness.

The staff and volunteers who keep the seniors on their toes at MGCC say the key to the program is integrating content and skills from the arts — dance, music, theater and the visual arts — with core education focused on health, wellness, exercise and nutrition to benefit seniors in Fort Bend County.

But, really, why do art every day?

“Art is highly engaging and motivating,” says Beth Zarate, executive director at MGCC. “A well-planned and implemented art program is one of the most effective ways for a diverse group with a wide range of interests, aptitudes, styles, and experiences to form a community. We want to build a community of active learners taking responsibility for and ownership of their own learning.”

“The arts offered every day at MGCC are enlivening the teaching and learning experience for the entire community,” adds Zarate. “Since we began offering art every day, we have noticed the social interaction, health and attitudes of our seniors improve. The arts are enhancing the center’s climate and community involvement.”

The seniors are also taking responsibility and ownership of the program at various levels of involvement. This is key to sustaining the program.

So how can you help?

Keeping the art room outfitted with enough art supplies to support 600 seniors per month is the biggest challenge. Volunteers are being recruited to help organize supply drive. Several of the seniors are leading activities to create artwork that can be sold to help raise money for art supplies. The “Friends of Mamie” are hosting a Garden Art & Tea Party on Friday, August 19, 4 p.m. that invites the community to the center for tea. Artwork created by the seniors can be purchased to help support the program.

The Center’s Wish List includes $25 gift cards from Hobby Lobby and Michael’s; 8×10 inch canvases; acrylic paints, flow and full body in primary range of colors; Golden Tylon brushes in assorted sizes; paint pens, sharpies; watercolor paper; Prang watercolor sets; die cutters, leafs and flowers; scrapbooking paper/card stock in assorted colors; and bisque ceramics (cases of 10 .oz mugs, small bowls and plates).

For more information on all the Creative Aging Program opportunities, call the center at 281-202-6200.

A class project shows off the seniors’ many styles.

A class project shows off the seniors’ many styles.

Artist Wilma Smith of Richmond.

Artist Wilma Smith of Richmond.

Artist Carmin Jolamo of Richmond creates art and donates a lot of her work to support the center.

Artist Carmin Jolamo of Richmond creates art and donates a lot of her work to support the center.

Patricia Hayes came to the Mamie George Community Center in 2013 when she was facing financial trouble and needed a helping hand. “Mamie taught me to do things that I never thought I could do: writing, drama and art. I found that I loved to volunteer, and I found I could help others. This has changed my life!”

Patricia Hayes came to the Mamie George Community Center in 2013 when she was facing financial trouble and needed a helping hand. “Mamie taught me to do things that I never thought I could do: writing, drama and art. I found that I loved to volunteer, and I found I could help others. This has changed my life!”

Artist Jeanette Washington shows off a painting technique she learned in the Creative Aging Program at MGCC.

Artist Jeanette Washington shows off a painting technique she learned in the Creative Aging Program at MGCC.

Alice Sanchez, Sally Mathis, Joyce Newtsie with art.

Alice Sanchez, Sally Mathis, Joyce Newtsie with art.

Jacquie McFadden is a senior member and volunteer at Mamie George Community Center. “We love the center, and we enjoy art. It’s up to us to help make sure art is offered every day,” says Jacquie. “We have been learning new skills and gaining confidence. Many of us are now volunteering. We are teaching, assisting and planning new projects.”

Jacquie McFadden is a senior member and volunteer at Mamie George Community Center. “We love the center, and we enjoy art. It’s up to us to help make sure art is offered every day,” says Jacquie. “We have been learning new skills and gaining confidence. Many of us are now volunteering. We are teaching, assisting and planning new projects.”

WHAT SENIORS CAN LEARN

Look to Mamie George Community Center for advice and resources to help seniors get the most out of life. The Center is changing attitudes towards aging from the traditional image of decline to a new vision of continuous growth. Keep looking forward! Your senior years can provide wonderful opportunities to learn new skills, pursue new adventures, develop new passions or explore old ones.

The Creative Aging Program at the Mamie George Community Center is a full discipline arts, education and health program providing life enhancing opportunities to support seniors in their efforts to stay healthy and active, volunteer, build friend­ships and live independently. The program includes:

Studio Workshops – Art classes are offered every day (M-F) 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Learn new skills! Resident Artists offer beginner to advanced lessons in Watercolor, Acyclic Painting, Ceramics, Pottery, Drawing and Sketching. Seniors can develop new skills, volunteer, become a mentor and teach others.

Senior Community Theater – “Late Bloomers” Drama Club.

Lunchtime Concerts & Cultural Arts Presentations – First Wednesday of each month. 11:30-12:30.

Life Long Learning – Open Enrollment Studio Courses for older adults.

Memory Café – Health Education and Art – A monthly support group for individuals with memory loss and their caregivers in partnership with Alzheimer’s Association of Houston.

Generations Art – An intergenerational art outreach program.

Friends of Mamie- Volunteer – driven events and fundraisers to build awareness and support for visual and performing arts programs for seniors in Fort Bend County.


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