Engaging in the arts benefits older adults in many ways — from fostering better communication skills to boosting self-confidence. At Chicago Methodist Senior Services, we work to connect residents with opportunities for artistic expression and engagement every day.

Creative Community Connections is a special intergenerational art program that connects CMSS residents with artistic pen pals across the globe. Each pair sends art and handwritten letters back and forth. The program gives residents the opportunity to form new connections while sharing their love of art in a whole new way.

How Creative Community Connections Began

In October 2016, CMSS resident Adrien and art therapist Jenn decided to create an arts program that focused on sending hand-written mail. They believed from the beginning that it should connect people who might not otherwise meet, like those who lived far away or were from different generations.

“Because we’re an older generation, we don’t get the chance to have relationships with younger people. This presents an opportunity to do that,” Creative Community Connections co-creator Adrien said. “Living in a place where most of the people are older, having the capability to be around younger people is great.

Jenn first put out a call to volunteers in early 2017 using online resources like Mail Me Some Art, VolunteerMatch and Chicago Artists Resource. She received an overwhelming response from interested artists.

Creating Intergenerational Art Connections

Jenn takes special care to pair interested residents with artists they have things in common with. Matching may be based on similar artistic tastes or shared backgrounds. For example, Jenn paired a retired pediatric nurse who lives at Hartwell Place with an artist who also had a background in nursing.

Once residents and artists are introduced, they correspond as often as they’d like. Some particularly special relationships have developed between residents and artists who have participated in the program over time. Irma, who lives at Wesley Place, has formed a close bond with her Creative Community Connections pen pal, WaZeil, a 25-year-old artist from Indiana. They immediately bonded over their similar personalities, have had several visits together at CMSS and even visited StoryCorps to record their story and share it with the world.

“[Creative Community Connections] has helped me get in touch with something from my youth, which was writing to people,” Irma said of her experience writing to WaZeil. “I felt part of the world again… And it was something I could share with my other friends. They all think it’s pretty neat and I was excited.”

The Value of Art for Older Adults

We’ve seen firsthand how the Creative Community Connections program inspires residents creatively. Engaging in the arts, whether through Creative Community Connections or an art therapy program, can provide many other benefits to older adults as well, such as:

  • A new form of self-expression.This is particularly valuable for people with memory loss, who may have challenges communicating in the ways they used to.
  • Improved self-esteem and confidence. Thanks to CMSS’ resources and programs, residents like Adrien and Irma are able to further their artistic pursuits, helping them gain confidence in their artistic strengths, and inspiring other residents to develop a new skill to be proud of.
  • New relationships. When connecting with someone new — such as through intergenerational art programs — residents engage with new perspectives and ideas.

Want to get involved with this program? Help us create more opportunities for intergenerational art exchanges by applying to be a volunteer. Our Creative Community Connections program needs volunteers to help some residents with writing or dictating. Or, get in touch to learn about CMSS’ other in-person volunteer opportunities in the arts.