Upper Canada College Grade 9 students had a chance to get their hands dirty while brightening up the days of residents at Toronto’s Belmont House during a recent visit as part of the school’s art with seniors program.
Upper School character integrator Craig Parkinson worked on the initiative with Paul Elia ’69 — an Old Boy and father of Grade 10 student Emilio Elia. This initiative connected four Grade 9 advising groups with seniors at Belmont House to work on art therapy projects. Elia is the founder of The Seniors’ Wish Foundation and is financing the activities and providing art materials for the program that will involve up to 72 Grade 9 UCC students visiting Belmont House this year and hopefully more next year.
“Seniors were the wise, respected elders in our society and now they have somehow disappeared,” said Elia. “The Seniors’ Wish Foundation wants to raise the profile of seniors to make them visible again.”
“It asks for no donations, only for small acts of kindness — helping a senior cross the street, letting them skip to the front of the queue, stopping for just a few seconds just to say hello.”
While Elia was researching other ways to help seniors, a gerontologist suggested that art would be a great way to raise their moods since it “fires the left brain and brings about improved mood and a sense of accomplishment.” Art therapy has been shown to help seniors suffering from ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, low self-esteem, depression and social isolation.
It was decided that clay would be a great medium to work with as it’s easily formed and allows seniors to exercise hand and lower arm muscles. Success is important and small sculptures can be made during a one-hour session, the time frame suggested by therapists.
The UCC boys had an hour of training working with clay as well as a 30-minute session with Belmont House staffers on how to work with the elderly before they visited the charitable, non-profit Christian home for seniors on Nov. 26.
“As soon as a slab of clay was given to both a student and senior, it was as if a door had opened,” said Elia. “Conversations about life experiences flowed naturally as the students demonstrated how easy it is to make a penguin.”
What Elia observed was felt by the students.
“I thought the program was a great way to get UCC students to get involved in their community,” said Chris Willcocks. “I got a chance to be social with seniors and learn how to interact with them. We also learned how to build clay objects such as bunnies, penguins and swans.
“The seniors got a chance to see new faces and break from their daily routines. If I were a senior in a home and my family came to visit once in a while, I would love it if people came to see me. They learned how to work with clay as well.”