What We Learned – Learnings

What We Learned

Music, Memory, and Seniors

Music matters! An agency that houses and cares for seniors in Burnaby and Vancouver, B.C. is seeing how much.

Fairhaven United Church Homes bought 40 hand-held music devices for seniors with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia. Inspiring the purchase was therapeutic research showing that music can improve a wide range of neurological conditions. Staff and volunteers worked with seniors or their families in the Vancouver care facility to develop customized or general play lists reflecting individuals’ tastes. Devices are managed at nursing stations but are loaned out as needed and desired.

Normeo Chung, Director of Therapeutic Recreation and Volunteer Services at Fairhaven, reports on lessons learned through the project.

The project was able to buy double the devices it first planned for after coming to the conclusion that lower-tech devices worked just as well as higher-priced items.

Having a volunteer who is familiar with managing computer music playlists can save lots of staff time on loading music on to seniors’ devices, reports Chung.

Some residents who had been speaking “word salad” or gibberish for a while, suddenly speak in well-constructed sentences while listening to music, reports Chung. “One resident. . . constructed a perfect sentence and said clearly ‘your hair looks nice today!’ She was smiling and giggling while she said it.”

Chung says in some cases, “music is better than antipsychotic [drugs].” There are no negative side effects to listening to music, she says.

“When residents are more engaged and not so isolated, feelings of hopelessness / helplessness can be reduced or removed,” she says.

She reports that more care staff are reaching for seniors’ music devices in early intervention therapeutic ways, such as when people show early signs of feeling or acting aggressive.

It is NEVER too late to begin music therapy with anyone, no matter how “disengaged” they seem to be.

Chung says that some were uncertain about how or if listening to music could affect seniors who whose cognitive or communicative abilities appear greatly diminished. But there has been a universal positive impact of giving seniors their own music playlists.

“Music is like the glue that binds people’s experiences together,” observes Chung.

Some seniors who people are accustomed to sitting very still are now seen smiling, humming to the music, or tapping their hands and feet to the beat.

Chung says a highlight of the project has been seeing residents dance who were fairly non-responsive before.  Additionally, beyond the devices the project purchased, some families have also purchased iPods and headphones for their loved ones.

“It’s so encouraging to confirm the benefits of [our project] by the family members and the staff,” not only by people involved in recreational therapies, she says.

 Healing Pathway

With the support of a United Church Foundation Seeds of Hope Grant Healing Pathway made the transition from being a foundational program of Naramata Centre, to being an Incorporated Society accountable to BC Conference.

“Our goals have mostly been achieved with a lot of hard volunteer work, and your support.   But the main goal that is not seen in these lists of accomplishments, it is that Healing Pathway has survived a major transition, and indeed has thrived as we find our feet in this new reality.  And that means that countless lives across the country are being changed; either by offering or receiving this healing, whole-making spiritual practice.”

Healing Pathway enables people to develop the gifts and skills of healing within the Christian tradition, and fosters the development of healing ministries in congregations and other communities.  You can learn more about their through this video.

Hear are some of Healing Pathway‘s learnings

It’s really hard work making such a transition. It’s hard work sustaining a ministry community across the whole country.  There have been innumerable volunteer hours offered by many people to make this transition a success.  The leadership of the Coordinating Circle has been essential.

It is vitally important to create lines of communication that help connect stakeholders across the country in order to sustain the Healing Pathway movement in congregations.  Healing Pathways is using newsletters, the website and communication between the Coordinating Circle and the Instructor’s Circle and Practitioners across the country.  Communication is crucial to the health of the movement.

Never doubt that the Spirit can create resurrection and new life even out of chaos and endings.   Taking the risk of trusting the Spirit made this transition possible.


Cool Clothes for Cool Kids

A project of St. Paul’s United Church and St. James Public School, Thunder Bay

Back-to-School is a stressor especially when parents can’t afford clothes. But in Thunder Bay, a unique boutique shows how sharing resources makes a huge difference.

Cool Clothes for Cool Kids started after the former principal at St. James School downtown raised a need with her congregation: many school families could not afford kids’ clothes. Further, the school community includes some kids in transient situations as it’s close to shelters serving both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women.

Now, on a regular basis in a classroom at St. James Public School, kids at the school can “shop” at the Cool Clothes for Cool Kids boutique and choose their own seasonal clothing. Clothing is free.

“We just didn’t want boxes of things for people to scrounge through,” says Mary Anderson, Chair of the Stewardship and Outreach Committee at St. Paul’s. “We wanted it to look like a boutique. A fun place with mirrors, where things look attractive.” The boutique at the school now features freshly laundered, curated seasonal clothing organized by size.

Here, Anderson and former principal Marla Poulin share more about the project and its learnings.

To educators at the school, the need for clothing was apparent. What they were seeing was reflected in statistical research showing that the percentage of vulnerable children at St. James School had risen.

Project leaders knew that while some families lacked new clothing, other families had surplus clothes to donate. As well, space and staff resources were available.

The school could create space to showcase clothes; the church had a room that could be re-purposed for receiving and sorting donations on an ongoing basis. The church secretary helps receive clothing; the church janitor delivers it to a sorting room.

The first clothing drive was launched during a Vacation Bible School camp in the summer at St. Paul’s.

Appropriate winter coats and boots are rarely donated, so the project purchases these items with donated funds.

Anderson says at first some people don’t understand why the clothing boutique is open to the entire student body, instead of children with a demonstrated need. But because all kids can access the boutique, it’s a fun highlight for everyone, not a stigma.

“The students have embraced this project with pride. The children help each other choose their own clothes giving them positive feedback and a sense of pride and ownership,” she says. “They don’t think that they have been given some hand-me-downs.”

Once a month, or as needed, kids can shop to meet seasonal needs.

With a sense of humility, the Cool Clothes for Cool Kids sought both to provide clothes and to seek a meaningful way for the congregation to grow in service to the community.

The project now sees 15 senior volunteers from St. Paul’s United Church and 5 young women involved with the project on an ongoing basis.

An after-school program supporting Aboriginal culture, Biwaase’aa, is also involved with mutually sharing resources. All students at the school are invited to attend drumming sessions. Participants of this group are welcome to choose clothing as well. The Biwaase’aa program leader can access the clothing.

A local Native women’s crisis support agency, Beendigen, promotes Cool Clothes to newcomer families with kids at the school.

“Mothers who arrive at the shelter with limited clothing and supplies are relieved to find that they can clothe their children when they register them for school,” says Poulin.

Some families from the school donate clothing back to the project. The school council has invited the clothing project to evening events to showcase clothes.

“Quite a few people have found a niche,” in the process of preparing the boutique, says Anderson. Volunteers are a mixture of church members, retired teachers, and the children themselves at the school.

Particular volunteers are involved in different aspects of receiving donations to getting them boutique-ready. Some sort clothes that arrive at the church and arrange to donate inappropriate items to other non-profit services; others regularly launder items at home. One woman with a van likes to pick up the bags that have been laundered and sorted and to deliver them to the school.

The church’s eight-person Stewardship and Outreach Committee acts as a steering committee for the project, and meets once a month.

The church hopes to engage the youth group in sorting and selecting clothing as part of a larger dialogue about the ethics of clothing production and resource distribution.

“When we started, we gladly accepted what we were offered. Now we are being more specific in describing our exact needs. Now we are more particular. We ask for freshly washed clothes. Even though clothes are clean, there are dog hairs and odours. We are cautious of allergens and safety,” says Anderson.

The project is still seeking an ongoing source of free, new clothing.

The Cool Clothes for Cool Kids project is supported by a $3,500 grant from The Wesley C. Smith Fund and The Watkins Fund for Poverty and at-Risk Youth and Children.


West Broadway Community Ministries

Meeting social, physical, and spiritual needs in Winnipeg: that’s what West Broadway Community Ministries is about. But offering a hand also has a literal meaning at this neighbourhood drop-in and resource agency.

In 2015, West Broadway taught 23 people how to offer reflexology hand massages. Reflexology is a healing art based on the principle that reflexes in hands, feet, and ears correspond to every organ or gland in the body, according to The Reflexology Association of Canada.

Since 2011, West Broadway has had a permanent space where people, primarily seniors or people with disabilities, can be treated by a certified reflexology therapist. The 2015 project aimed to equip seniors with the skills to practice this preventative health discipline. The training modules emphasized relief for ailments such as arthritis, diabetes, sciatica or poor circulation.

The United Church Foundation supported the workshop series. Workshops were run conjointly with a drop-in lunch. Here, West Broadway shares learning about its “Put Your Hand in the Hand” project.

“I learned about the human body, things I did not know. . .I liked that I was participating from the first day,” wrote one participant in an evaluation of the workshops.

Community Minister Lynda Trono and reflexology therapist Susan Rowley say participants in reflexology training gained a means of doing self-care and an increased interest in participating in their healthcare.

“It’s a lovely thing to offer. It’s a luxury for sure, but there’s so much anxiety and stress in being poor, that doing any piece of comfort is a lovely thing. . . And working on hands is also about opening up the opportunity to touch each other,” says Trono. She adds that many seniors who attend West Broadway may largely be alone, and may not otherwise experience touch.

Rowley and Trono say that locating workshops in a space alongside a seniors lunch allowed people to notice what was happening, but the down side was disruption.

Another time, says Trono, the workshop might be held in a separate room, with organizers inviting people who were already dropping in for lunch to attend, instead of anticipating a consistent group. “People’s lives here are pretty chaotic. . .Often, it’s simply whoever shows up,” says Trono.

Small groups work best with teaching hand reflexology, says Rowley. While she wishes the workshops had reached more people, she still would have preferred fewer participants per session. Participants choose a partner, and having fewer people present allows the facilitator to give each set of partners focused attention, says Trono.

A common programming pitfall can be trying to cover a great deal of material due to a fear of boring one’s group. But Rowley said when it comes to reflexology, she would advise otherwise. “I would tell others who wanted to do something similar to expect to use lots of repetition in their lessons.” Trono notes the centre already offers Tai Chi, another physical practice which builds on repetition.

Rowley says having a concrete and formal way to close a mini-workshop is important, to amplify a sense of closure and pride. “All ages take pride in learning something new. I would give certificates of participation to all those who attended the workshops, even in part.”


Choral Morphosis

Choral Morphosis’ director Melissa Barnes knows launching new programs can be a bumpy ride.

But after five years’ directing a successful and unique choir, she knows how to stick with what works – like listening to the choir’s desire to sing the same songs again and again, such as Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Choral Morphosis is a program of Robertson-Wesley United Church in Edmonton.  The choir is designed particularly for adults aged 16 and older with a developmental or physical disability.  The church’s music director, Tammy-Jo Mortenson, first created the choir after noticing people with disabilities and musical interests in the community were under-served.

Today, the choir has about 40 core members, 94 per cent of whom return year after year.    Returning member Nicole Chalisoux says the choir has helped her meet new people.  “I love to sing so I enjoy being there.   I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” she says.   “It has opened my horizons up.”

But such program success wasn’t always so.    Here, Mortenson shares some more lessons about launching new ministries:

“There are so few programs, especially artistic programs for people with disabilities… These are people who are often falling through the cracks. [Many members] are people often on social assistance who often have very little money to spend on what our society has termed ‘a frill,’ which we don’t agree music is. So [Choral Morphosis] is filling that need for which there is really very little. That’s probably true right across the country, but also particularly in Alberta.”

“As with anything new when you start a new project, you can’t immediately give up when it doesn’t seem successful. Our first year, I think we had three people on a consistent basis, and three people does not a choir make. We kept on with a lot of advertising but a lot of word of mouth [really helped]…. So just don’t give up!”

especially when serving people who are accompanied by caregivers, says Mortenson. “Consistency is really important, that you are not cancelling rehearsals or there are not new people in the leadership all the time; the location and time are consistent. All of that is really important when workers are bringing people.”

“This probably also goes hand in hand with the patience to see what will happen. We’ve seen such incredible growth, not only in the program itself, but within the people. That’s why we called it Choral Morphosis. There can be learning without specified training or any of those kinds of things. There is incredible growth that can happen in a community when people join something, and from learning a new skill.”

“We got so big, and many of the members who started with us have found they want more challenge now. So now we’ve started a new program called Choral Arts, and it’s still under the Choral Morphosis umbrella. Choral Arts has gotten more into acting, and singing of solos.”