The residents at Windemere are blessed with three wonderful women who run engaging conversation and art groups. Each is dedicated and moved by the older adults with whom they work. Both types of programs began decades ago, and are still running strong.
Nancy Cabot is the first of the trio to start working with the residents. After retiring from teaching, a friend at church told her that Windemere was looking for someone to teach art. She has been there ever since 2001, with the exception of closures due to COVID.
Hermine Hull joined more recently, although her experience with Windemere began in 2010, when she took a certified nursing assistant class there. She then worked in private care and at the Center for Living for 13 years, until she recently retired. Then this year she started running both an art and a conversation group.
Linda Vadasz also joined more recently — she too had an earlier connection with Windemere. When the Martha’s Vineyard Museum was only in Edgartown, Vadasz explains, “They got a grant to go out into the community to senior centers and Windemere to talk about art. I became very fond of the residents. When I had this opportunity, I jumped at it.”
Each woman brings something special to her work. Vadasz likes to engage the participants by beginning with something personal related to the topic. For instance, she recently asked if residents had played any sports, had teams they were fans of, and memories surrounding them. Vadasz admitted that she was never good at them, and related the story of swimming and getting sucked under by a wave as a small child — and that the resulting fear kept her from learning to swim until she was in her 40s. Before the holidays, Vadasz started the conversation with residents by describing the menu she, her in-laws, and the children always make. When mentioning the popovers she bakes, Vadasz says, “None had ever eaten them, so I made some and brought them in.”
Hull explains that she might start her conversation group by reading a newspaper article that she thinks would spark a discussion, or things in history that seem relevant. She shares, “Sometimes people have something on their minds, and so we talk about that. Or we talk about their history; what their lives have been like, which I think is really important. For example, for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I asked if they had been aware of him, and if he had any influence on them.”
In her art group, Hull uses different kinds of materials, and tries to bring in ones that you don’t have expectations about, including stickers of Victorian images, which were particularly popular. Hull says, “Sometimes we do something that will look recognizable. But I don’t like to do projects where the work has to look specific. People have preconceived ideas if it’s good or not. I prefer it if it’s more playful,” she said. “I just want them to have a good time and do something that is creative and colorful. Art is personal, and I want them to enjoy what they’re doing and to be involved. I want their lives to be the best they can be.”
For her art group, Cabot says, “I try to choose activities that are tied to a holiday or something that’s happening on the Island or in the world, because not only do they enjoy getting together to make art, but they love to talk about what inspires it. I want them to make something that means something to them.” Cabot gave the example that after the war broke out last year, she thought of doing something with Ukrainian flags and sunflowers. She recalls, “It was wonderful because they were very much aware of the situation. None of us knew what the solution was, but we could all say, ‘We know this is wrong — can’t anybody do anything?’” They also made a ceremonial quilt when they were asked to create some kind of end-of-life commemoration. Cabot says, “The nurse said, Would it be possible for the group to make something that when a resident dies, we could put the quilt on the person who passed away, and a flower and note so that it was observed by everyone as they were wheeled out?” Cabot had the residents use prints carved from potatoes to create their individual designs on muslin squares, which she then assembled into the resulting quilt.
Hull says about her time at Windemere, “A lot of it, I think for all of us, is about forming relationships with one another. We’ve all become very fond of each other, and finding out about each other. That’s a big part of doing any kind of work like this. You get so connected to the people you work with — that’s a lovely part of it.”