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One Facility, Two Winning Programs.

NBA Robin Run Village of Indianapolis, Ind., celebrated a banner year in 1999. The multilevel, 86acre retirement community, which is part of the National Benevolent Association, received national and state awards for two programs that benefit the facility's community and residents. NBA Robin Run received AAHSA's 1999 Community Service Award for its Coan Lea Log Cabin Educational Program. Meanwhile, IAHSA (Indiana Association of Homes and Services for the Aging) presented its 1999 Creativity Award to the facility for its Creative Arts Project, which uses art and touch therapy to assist residents with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Here's a snapshot of both programs:

Coan Lea Log Cabin Educational Program

In 1988, Charles and Louise Coan, upon retiring to NBA Robin Run, donated their 1850s log cabin to the facility. Mr. Coan had inherited the cabin from his parents, who purchased the farm property in 1941. In preparation for the American Bicentennial, Charles and Louise dismantled the building and restored it on property close to their home. It was opened to tours in December 1975.

After the cabin made its final journey to NBA Robin Run, a group of residents, many of whom were retired schoolteachers, decided to create a program for children to visit the cabin and learn what 19th-century rural life was like. "We made the cabin a living place," says Gwen Betor, associate executive director at NBA Robin Run Village. Resident Fran Craddock was the first coordinator of the educational program, and she and the other resident volunteers became cabin tutors to the 1,500 schoolchildren who make field trips to the cabin each year.

"When the young children first enter the cabin, they're completely awed," says Elberta Evans, 82, who inherited the position of program coordinator when Mrs. Craddock became ill. A former schoolteacher of 13-1/2 years who lives in NBA Robin Run's Independent Garden Homes, she began volunteering for the program in 1993. "We give them a little time to look around the cabin and get familiar with it."

One of the first things they see in the one-room cabin is the roaring fire in the stone fireplace, which volunteer fire builders prepare before each class arrives. Next they see farm tools, such as saws and axes hanging on the walls. A coonskin cap and a bonnet hang on pegs near the tools. The cabin also contains an old washing machine, a sewing machine, a churn, a dry sink and cane-bottomed chairs. It also has a loft with a bed, but the children are not allowed to go up there.

The nine cabin tutors dress in period clothing, wearing long dresses or skirts, aprons, dust caps or bonnets and shawls in the winter. According to Evans, the first question the kindergartners and first-graders ask is, "Do you live here?" The second question is, "Can we go up there?" pointing to the loft. "You can count on those questions," says Evans.

The program is run in partnership with Pike Township Schools, which schedule the field trips. The classes visit the cabin according to their studies. For example, kindergartners and first-graders study family life, and the cabin tutors talk about how a family lived in the cabin. "We contrast their own life with what it was like in the cabin," says Evans. For example, the children each have their own bedrooms, but the cabin is only one room. Where did they sleep? Where's the bathroom?

The girls learn to wash clothes using a washboard, while the boys carry in wood. The children also learn how to bake bread, churn butter and prepare vegetables, fruits and herbs for drying. However, it's not all work and no play; the students get to play jump rope with a grapevine and games such as "hide the thimble." The climax is a lesson in food preparation, when the children get to eat popcorn while being shown how it used to be popped over an open fire.

Second-, third- and fourth-graders study Abraham Lincoln, pilgrims and settlers, and Native Americans. During their Lincoln studies the students get to take part in the old-fashioned "blab school," which provides them a welcome alternative from their usual lessons. "We divide the class into three groups," says Evans. "One group has reading, one has spelling and another has math." The cabin tutors place charts on the wall for the students to read out loud at the same time. "And if they don't do it quite loud enough," Evans adds, "we say,

'Louder!' They enjoy it."

The cabin conducts programs for students from kindergarten all the way through high school. Children in fourth and fifth grade learn how to live off the land. Middle-schoolers study wilderness survival. High school students come to the cabin for lessons in Indiana history.

The Coan Lea Log Cabin Educational Program is free. It is run completely by residents, who volunteer their time and some materials (such as popcorn). NBA Robin Run is there for support. The facility pays for the utilities and maintenance of the cabin. However, these expenses are minimal, according to Betor.

The Pike Township teachers and students who visit the cabin each year enjoy and appreciate the program. Donna Sweet, a kindergarten teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis, wrote in a letter: "There is no other facility in our community that offers this unique program for children and adults. The children benefit from this cabin by experiencing firsthand Indiana history." Student Mikaela Akers wrote in a letter to NBA Robin Run: "I think it would be fun to be a pioneer in 1821. You would have to work hard and be strong when the many dangers of pioneer life would come your way. Thank you, Mrs. Craddock."

While the community has benefited from this program, the residents at NBA Robin Run have, as well. Evans says she enjoys volunteering for the program. "I love it," she says. "I have three children of my own, but they live in other states so I don't get to see my grandchildren as often as I'd like." She adds that the students are like her adopted grandchildren.

"I think it's given the residents a real sense of worth and purpose," says Betor. "It's a free, quality program, and it also gives young people a chance to see positive aging."

Creative Arts Project

NBA Robin Run's Creative Arts Project is a program of art and touch therapy designed to assist residents with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. An art therapist oversees the program, which provides forms of expression for people who have lost their language skills.

Char Price, RN, retirement living director at NBA Robin Run, began the program in 1995. She has worked with people with dementia for more than 20 years. "I saw a real need here and have read about arts programs in various parts of the country." says Price. For the first two years of the program, the facility received funding from Very Special Arts Indiana, a nonprofit organization that offers artistic opportunities to people with disabilities. Since then the facility has relied on private funding and other resources.

The art therapist works with a ceramic artist, a dance/movement artist, resident volunteers and staff to provide the residents a variety of artistic experiences, including drawing, painting, collage and mixed media, ceramics, music and dance. Sessions meet for 45 minutes to an hour, once per week.

"If we're doing an art or ceramic program," says Price, "the participants are divided into two groups. We try to have no more than 12 in each group." This allows the art therapist to move around the room and work with the residents. She adds that the residents are divided according to their functioning level. Some of the residents live independently with their spouses. Other participants are from the facility's Alzheimer's unit and are chosen by the staff as to whether they will benefit from the program.

The art projects that the residents create have varied themes. Many sessions are about reminiscing; others are seasonal. "In the fall we might bring in a lot of dried leaves," says Price, "and the residents will work with the leaves by maybe pressing them or drawing them." The residents created a ceramic plaque, which took several weeks to complete and is now hanging in a hallway at NBA Robin Run. It's made up of 27 small plaques that were designed by the residents using various materials, including wire, thread, rollers and a mixture of colors.

At one session the residents were asked what they are thankful for. "One resident wrote, 'Thank you Lord for all the good things that have come my way--especially my dear wife,'" says Price. "And he drew a pretty picture of a bird with the sun coming through the clouds."

Some of the drawings are quite good and some are rather simple, but it makes no difference. "The criteria for the program isn't that you are artistic or that you can draw well," says Price. "It's a form of self-expression." The important thing, she adds, is that the residents are able to connect with their expression and reminisce, to go back.

"Many times the drawings will portray something that's from 40 or 50 years ago," says Price. For example, she explains that one resident drew a childlike picture that wasn't easily distinguishable. The drawing was made clear when the resident explained to the group that the small orange tree was the tree she could see from her bedroom window as a child. The red square next to it was her father's dental office, which she could also see from her window. "Looking at it, one probably couldn't tell that was a tree or a building," says Price, "but to her it was. And she was able to express that."

Some residents respond more to art and ceramics; others enjoy the music. The kind of music the facility plays is eclectic, and it can depend on the time of the year. "For Valentine's Day we played 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart,'" says Price, "and we passed around hearts and the residents handed them to each other." Many of the residents also respond well to hymns, she adds.

"It's very active," says Price. "We're about participating and being a part of this music." Many of the residents, when they hear a song, will start tapping their toes and singing the next verse. "These might be folks who can't even remember their names," says Price, "but they can tell you that song. They sing and begin to move with the therapist."

The program also enables residents to participate in structured dance, as well as music making or movement. "We have dance and movement even for folks who are in wheelchairs," says Price. Sometimes the residents use scarves and other colorful things that they can move around with their arms to emphasize movement. The dance! movement artist dances individually with the residents. For the wheelchair-bound residents, he places his arms around them and moves with them. "The therapist doesn't stand still, and that's contagious," Price explains. Many people with dementia imitate, she adds, and that is how they are able to do things. "So, as he moves, they begin to move," she says. "And as he sings, they begin to sing. Everyone performs."

Price says that there is nothing quantitative that she can put on paper to show the impact that the Creative Arts Project has had on the residents at NBA Robin Run. "But we have noticed that it certainly seems to assist sometimes in relaxing them and reducing their anxiety and stress.

"The most important thing is providing artistic endeavors for folks who have lost their language skills, which was their form of self-expression--in other words, acknowledging their personal history, their identity, their emotions, even though their means of verbal communication continues to decrease."

The CEO of NBA Robin Run Village is Kent Kirkwood.
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Author:Pine, Nancy
Publication:Nursing Homes
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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