Aliona Gibson, Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers (OCT), found her world turned upside down last year when pandemic shelter-in-place orders began. She went from having close and personal interactions with the residents at her community and being able to organize interesting outings to having to greet people from a distance and a severely curtailed activity calendar, with all contact masked and distanced. Fortunately, Aliona was able to adapt quickly and continue to provide engagement activities and helpful resources for residents of the West Oakland community.
“Since March of last year, I have been creating monthly packets for our residents to give them something to do while they are safe at home. The packets includes a variety of puzzles and brain teasers, easy recipes, and a letter with helpful information about Coronavirus from the CDC, all translated into the different languages spoken by our residents.”
“Some residents will complete the entire packet and return it to me, a sign that they are engaged and enjoying the handouts,” Aliona says. “We have been able to do some group activities outside. Even though it’s sometimes cold, our residents show up for socially-distanced bingo! On holiday crafts day, residents still came out to make holiday cards and cookie ornaments even though it was a bit windy.”
Aliona’s favorite part of her role at Oak Center Towers is getting to know the residents. “Despite some language barriers, I feel connected and appreciated. I love the chuckles when I say ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you’ in Cantonese, Korean, or Tigrinya. It’s challenging not to be able to verbally communicate extensively with everyone, but they are still able to let me know they enjoyed an activity I organized, which makes me feel good about my work,” Aliona says. “I especially enjoyed being able to deliver handmade cards created by volunteers from Creative Spark, Covia’s creative aging program. It was during a time when I felt like a small thing like a card with an inspirational message could brighten someone’s day! Shout out to the Creative Spark team!”
Over the past year, residents at Oak Center Towers have been fostering their creativity through art classes and art programs. Aliona Gibson, Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers, has been introducing residents to a new art project every month in addition to supporting the community’s connection with the Art with Elders program.
Art with Elders at Oak Center Towers
Art with Elders provides weekly art classes led by professional art instructors to over 450 residents in communities around the Bay Area. Their classes focus on teaching art skills such as composition and color as well as fostering community. Participants are invited to submit their artwork for the annual exhibit that showcases their hard work to the public around the Bay Area.
This year, artwork created by residents at Oak Center Towers for the Art with Elders program is featured in the 27th Annual Art with Elders Exhibit, currently on display at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital through November 18th. Aliona Gibson and Oak Center Towers residents attended the exhibit’s Opening Celebration on October 27th where, Gibson notes, residents were “very proud and excited about their work being on display.”
One resident’s art was even selected to be printed onto greeting cards that could be purchased at the event. Gibson purchased one of these cards, saying that “it was invaluable to me to have such a beautiful and professional reproduction of the resident’s work.”
Beyond their work at Oak Center Towers, Art with Elders also provides classes at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, and Executive Director Mark Campbell and Instructor-Exhibits Manager Darcie O’Brien spoke as part of Covia’s 2019 Creative Aging Symposium, which celebrates the importance of creativity in creating a sense of self and living with purpose. The Creative Aging Symposium will return on January 29th, 2020 to explore more aspects of creative aging featuring speakers with backgrounds in eco-friendly fashion, choreography, and medicine.
Monthly Art Projects
In addition to the Art with Elders program, Gibson has been introducing residents at Oak Center Towers to monthly art projects that allow them to try out different mediums and materials. Residents have created everything from tie-dye t-shirts and terrariums to painted flower pots and tissue flowers.
One popular event even had an edible component where residents created rainbow fruit skewers with strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupes, pineapple, green grapes, and blueberries. Gibson notes that the event was particularly popular because residents “got to take them home and some residents ate while creating.”
Beyond the monthly art projects, there is also a weekly coloring activity where a small group of residents gather to color with gel pens, markers, and colored pencils.
Oak Center Towers’ diverse population means that not all of the residents share the same language, which can make craft projects and teaching difficult. Gibson says, “There is usually one person who speaks English who will relay what I am saying but mostly they go by pictures. I always bring examples of the craft we are doing, sometimes a prototype and sometimes pictures from the internet.”
Between the monthly art projects, regular coloring group, and Art with Elders program, Oak Center Towers has created a number of beautiful pieces that have been displayed around the community on top of the art accepted into the Art with Elders’ exhibit.
The Art with Elders Annual Exhibit is open until November 18th at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital. After November 18th, the exhibit will move to the Rincon Center in Downtown San Francisco through January 18th, 2020. Artwork from the Art with Elders exhibit is also available on their website.
*Image of Oak Center Towers group courtesy of Art with Elders