Spontaneity sparks joy at the Living Center

JACKSON, WY — How do you celebrate Mardi Gras as a resident at St. John’s Living Center?

Just like you might celebrate in New Orleans, with a little imagination and spontaneity. And so it went on March 8 in the halls of the Living Center. There were masks. There were beads. There were boas. There were tiny dogs in tiny hats. There was jazz music.

The Living Center throws plenty of parties, but Mardi Gras was special. At least twice a year, Living Center staff try to “mix it up,” said Speech Therapist Kate Wienman. They plan according to the “Eden Program,” which helps combat loneliness, helplessness, and boredom among aging people. The idea is to build in as many opportunities for spontaneity and genuine joy as possible. To make assisted living feel “less institutional,” and more fun. For occasions like Mardi Gras, they think big.

But more often than not, it’s the little things that make a difference.

“You can plan for so many things, but in the end, it’s the little things that will work best,” said Petra Shockley, The Living Center’s life enrichment coordinator.

At the Mardi Gras party this year, residents decorated wheelchairs, made masks, and paraded through the dining hall. There were awards for “Best Dressed” and “Most Likely to End Up on Bourbon Street.” They played Cornhole, bowled with huge inflatable bowling pins, and had NERF wars.

“The parties come as a pleasant surprise. They help make life less dull and add pleasure to our life,” said Living Center resident Phyllis Osborne.

“The palm reader was a huge hit,” Wienman said. “As long as you got a positive reading.”

The biggest challenge for The Living Center staff is planning activities that can accommodate every resident’s physical and cognitive abilities. But the trick, Wienman said, is to just allow for spontaneity.

“It doesn’t take a lot to bring joy.”

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St John’s Health

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