My previous post described the origins of Beyond the Link, the monthly newsletter written by residents of the retirement community where I am an art therapist. Beyond the Link is driven by the Porch Group, 6-12 residents who edit and write articles. Group meetings are open to all residents and submission boxes throughout the facility receive articles written by residents from any of the four levels of care.
Initially, Porch Group members and I were unsure how often the newsletter should be printed. There was no guarantee that we could gather enough content to sustain a regular newsletter. Quite a few initial meetings focused on ways to invite community involvement. Despite these initial concerns, we are pleased to find a regular succession of easily-filled papers. On many occasions, Beyond the Link editors have to make tough decisions about which articles to publish, because so much content has been submitted!
“Did you know that Kip used to play drums at the Aragon?!” Karen, a resident, asked the group with enthusiasm. She continued to explain facility resident Kip’s fascinating life, and suggested that he should be interviewed for the newsletter. “Great idea,” I replied. “Are you going to do that?”
My approach has been as group facilitator rather than leader. It didn’t take long for residents to learn that if they brought an article idea to the group, I would ask them to write the article. Should the topic originator have challenges with writing, the group would look for a co-author who could help the idea come to fruition.
The Power of Recognition
A Person You Should Know is the headline used for interviews of fellow residents. Through these interviews, readers have learned the impressive biographies of their neighbors, including a variety of experiences and accomplishments. Interviews open up opportunities for conversation and further connection. Learning and sharing one resident’s story makes everyone a little more human.
Porch Group members have also harnessed the newsletter’s power to direct positive attention and strengthen all relationships within the community. One example of this is the fact that members recognize and thank exceptional staff within the newsletter. When a resident interviews a staff member, relational hierarchies shift. Staff members and residents are empowered through interviews. Bringing focus to the life of a care-giver outside of the working relationship can deepen the exchange between the care-giver and the resident. Residents gain more complete views of the staff members, allowing more avenues for connection and greater complexity of relationships.
An Ever-Developing Identity
The social identity plays an important role in overall health. Roseanne wrote a front page article about Frankie Lane, pop star and Lane Tech alumni. A few weeks after the article was published, Roseanne was stopped at the gift shop by a woman she did not know, who stated, “You’re Roseanne! You wrote that article about Frankie Lane and I loved it!”
When an article is written for Beyond the Link, the author gets a byline. The work of art is signed. (Residents may use pen names, but articles must be traceable by the editors to an author). By making the choice to use a pen name or one’s initials in the byline, the resident assumes the identity of journalist/author/artist. She may be noticed for the first time in this new role. Many newsletter contributors have assumed the title of journalist or editor with pride. One writer always signs off, “Your roving reporter, Sandy.”
The authors and editors of Beyond the Link exemplify the liberation, wisdom, and drive that carries us into our later years, as described by Dr. Gene Cohen’s developmental stages in the Mature Mind.
As an art therapist, I consider the Porch Group to be an expressive art program; Beyond the Link is an ongoing work with multiple artists. This blog post is not concerned with convincing you that the writing of a newsletter is art therapy, but I will share my inclusive understanding of art as based on the writings of Ellen Dissanayake. Dissanayake is an anthropologist and scholar known for describing art as a natural and necessary act of taking something from the every-day context and making it special.
One of the first reasons the Porch Group developed a newsletter was to recognize losses in the community. Residents wanted a forum where public mourning could aid the processing of grief in the community environment, where death is not uncommon. Memorial poems, shared sentiments, and memories printed in Beyond the Link can make the passing of a friend or neighbor “special” for the author and for the readers. Everyday moments can be made sacred through sharing. A community can avoid becoming numb from the commonly-occurring tragedy of loss by noticing and sharing.
Condensing my observations about Beyond the Link to two blog posts has been difficult. As you read, know that I’ve barely started to delineate the newsletter’s benefits to the community’s residents. In closing, I wish to encourage anyone in a position to facilitate a residents’ newsletter to do so! Please contact me if you have any questions or want to know more details about how things have come together. Beyond the Link has been a success because I listened to the Porch Group members. Throughout the process, they have told me what they wanted; I asked questions and together we found answers. I saw and encouraged the residents to see their lives and experiences as resources, to be the authors and editors. They use the paper in the ways they need, ways that I could never have imagined. We have all been strengthened through the creation of Beyond the Link.
All names of residents have been changed to protect privacy.
Many thanks to Stephanie Maurice for editing this post and niallkennedy for the photo.