Partnership with Harvard Artistz Program

For the second time, Harvard College Alzheimer’s Buddies (HCAB) collaborated with Harvard Artistz Program (HARTZ), another Phillips Brooks House Association program working with the elderly and connecting with them through arts and crafts.

Today, I woke up bright and early and met up with the other HARTZ volunteers. There were a couple HCAB volunteers as well - we encourage our volunteers to partake in the collaboration in order to (1) inspire them with potential activities they could do with their buddies and (2) see how another program in a different facility was running.

We first met in a common room, and the directors of HARTZ laid out what we were doing today. They had polaroid cameras, so they were planning on taking photos of the residents, if they were willing. Then, they had colored paper, markers, and popsicle sticks with the idea of making a photo frame using these materials. 

It was a bright and sunny day as we walked to our site, Cambridge Rehabilitation Center. The 15 minute walk didn’t seem long at all as we chatted and laughed along the way. Everyone was really welcoming, and it was great catching up with people and meetings others.

Cambridge Rehabilitation Center is very different from Hebrew Senior Life. To put it frankly, the population looked much more underserved at Cambridge Rehabilitation Center. There were fewer nurses running around and many of the elderly looked lost or forgotten. I ended up sitting next to an elderly man named Larry* who couldn’t articulate words very well.

However, from hand motions and nonverbal methods of communication. We ended up taking his photo. I helped him design his frame with a color he liked, red, and pretty patterns. I will admit it was difficult understanding Larry; however, music allowed us to connect. I noticed that Larry had a harmonica around his neck, so I asked him if he knew how to play. He nodded, and after several more nonverbal communications. He took the harmonica and began to play. It’s hard for me to properly express my surprise at his beautiful playing. Despite not being able to talk, it seemed that he was able to convey so much of his emotion through music.

As he finished the beautiful melody, the room burst into applause. The other volunteers and some residents all smiled at Larry, and he had a giant smile on his face too. We finished the photo frame, and I truly hope that he looks back upon it with fond memories. For me, looking at this photo reminds me of a truly wonderful day.

I greatly enjoyed this partnership with HARTZ, and I look forward to continuing it in the future. Afterwards, I talked to the directors of HARTZ, and we exchanged numbers. All of us agreed that there was a lot that our programs could learn and grow from each other - especially since we were serving a similar population. One way this partnership made me think was the facility in which HCAB worked with. Since HCAB is considering expanding our program, it would definitely be helpful for us to think precisely about where this expansion is to happen. Ultimately, this experience was really great and Larry’s music was definitely the highlight of my day.

*Names changed for privacy

Ellen Zhang