A local arts program for those battling Alzheimer’s disease is uplifting and unforgettable
Sam Endelicato focused intently on the blank paper in front of him and tentatively moved his paintbrush across the page, leaving behind a trail of color. Sam’s daughter, Katie Souza, sat attentively by his side, offering words of encouragement as he attempted his first watercolor painting. The Winter Springs man and his daughter were newcomers to Memories in the Making (MIM), a free art program presented at two locations in our community by the Alzheimer’s Association.
The program is designed for people with early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. MIM programs are offered at the Maitland Public Library and One Senior Place in Altamonte Springs. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million Americans are living with the disease.
Sam, a former drummer, was diagnosed in May 2015 at the age of 62. Katie discovered the MIM program at One Senior Place while researching support groups for patients and their families.
“This is still very new for us,” says Katie, a Boston resident who was visiting her parents this summer. “I think it’s helpful to be with like-minded people in the same room, to know you’re not the only one.”
Pamela Levin, the art facilitator for the MIM programs in Maitland and Altamonte, is impressed with Sam’s newly-acquired art skills.
“Sam’s work has been gorgeous,” Pamela says. “He has progressed immensely from the first day in his comfort with the materials.”
Memories in the Making was launched in the 1980s in California and is now offered nationwide. The program debuted at the Maitland library in 2014 and at One Senior Place in 2015, says Julie Shatzer of the Central and North Florida Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“The ability to do art is one of the areas of the brain that is really retained, so people can continue to do art later into the disease process,” says Julie, the chapter’s vice president of programs.
At One Senior Place, Barbara Shearman worked a few seats down from Sam, putting finishing touches on a beach scene. The Longwood resident is a regular at the MIM sessions.
“I’ve always liked to paint,” Barbara says. “It’s a fun thing to do, and it makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re achieving something.”
Her bright blue clothes matched the ocean waves and sky in her painting. The serene beach scene reminded her of a home she and her husband had owned in St. Augustine. Another of her pieces, a painting of a little white church, sparked fond memories of Barbara’s hometown.
“It looks like the church I went to in Cleburne, Texas,” she says. “I miss Cleburne. There’s just something about small towns, you know?”
At the Maitland Public Library, 68-year-old Michael Balson regularly attends the MIM sessions.
“I think the reason I like it is because everybody’s so enthusiastic here,” says Michael, who was diagnosed about nine years ago. “You never make a bad stroke.”
Indeed, Memories in the Making is about the creative process and self-expression, not the final product.
Michael, who lives in Oviedo with his wife, Julia, has produced a sizeable body of artwork during the past year-and-a-half.
“I’m waiting for that first million,” jokes Michael about the potential dollar value of his collection as he and his wife browsed through his painting portfolio.
Julia is grateful for the MIM program and what it brings to her husband’s quality of life.
“It kind of stimulates his brain, just the same as reading aloud,” she says. “I think Michael enjoys the tranquility and the people. It’s an avenue where we had not thought of going before.”
Pamela, an experienced art educator, is amazed and inspired by the work that is produced during the weekly MIM sessions. The program is a self-esteem booster for many men and women who have lost skills to the disease. Participants in MIM sessions find that they can learn something new after all, Pamela notes.
“They’re feeling successful because there’s no judgment here, there’s no right or wrong,” she says. “It’s a safe and positive atmosphere. Memories in the Making is, truly, living proof that a picture is worth a thousand words.”
To register for MIM programs in Maitland or Altamonte Springs, call the Alzheimer’s Association helpline at 800-272-3900. No art experience is needed, but space is limited.
Paintings by MIM artists throughout the Central and North Florida Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association will be exhibited in October at the Maitland library, at 501 South Maitland Avenue. A majority of the art on display will be from participants in the Altamonte Springs and Maitland programs.
A reception with light refreshments will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 12. Admission is free and open to the public. The artwork can also be viewed during regular library hours.
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