‘A Poem in Our Eyes’ features poetry from care center residents, photography from Penn State students

This photograph by Jane Liechty inspired the poem “Calm and Restful Wonderland” co-written by residents of Center Care’s Memory Care Unit. Photo by Jane Liechty

The Betsy Rodgers Allen Gallery at the Schlow Center Area Library is hosting an exhibit throughout June featuring poems written by residents of the Center Care Nursing Home’s Memory Care Unit in response to photographs of Penn State student photographers.

An annual celebration of nonprofit Ridgelines Language Arts’ biannual program of the same name, “A Poem in Our Eyes” highlights the rich intellectual and creative abilities of those living with memory loss.

Poems and photographs will be displayed, forming an exhibition that brings verbal and visual art into conversation, honors the imagination of those living with memory loss, and challenges conventional notions of disability.

Program participants met weekly throughout the spring with Ridgelines Teaching Artist Robyn Rydzy. Residents wrote spontaneous poems in response to photographs provided by art teacher Steven Rubin and his photography students, including Alexa Lisanti, Zhiqian Luo, Jane Liechty and Shana Andrews. Previous semesters of “A Poem in Our Eyes” have used drawings, paintings, and sculptures by artists with Center County ties.

During each session, Rydzy encourages her students to respond to the artwork by asking questions such as: What do you see? How do you feel ? What would you like to do there? What is the weather like in this photo? What happens before, or after?

“As a teaching artist, I let everyone know that we’re here to let our imaginations run wild – there are no right or wrong answers. Everything people say is written on a whiteboard for all to see. Although my hand is involved in copying and uploading the poems, all words and titles come directly from the participants,” Rydzy said.

“Our poetry programs at Center Care are celebrating their 10th anniversary,” said Abby Minor, Founding Director of Ridgelines. “The participants are teachers, mothers, fathers, seamstresses, graveyard mowers, fishermen and women, dancers and worshippers, storytellers and poem writers.”

One of the main goals of A Poem in Our Eyes is to provide rich intellectual experiences for people living with memory loss and to increase mental and emotional well-being. The weekly sessions also promote social inclusion and provide a vehicle to connect with others creatively. Each session provides participants with an experience where their words and imaginations are valued and provide the satisfaction of creating something new.

“It has been a pleasure for me to meet with the participants every week to watch, reflect, talk, discuss and laugh with the images here,” said Rydzy.

Last year, Ridgelines launched its first annual community business sponsorship program.

“We are proud to have Boalsburg Car Company, First Citizens Community Bank, Foxdale Village, Lion Country Kia and Sammis Greenhouse as our first Writer Tier Sponsors,” said Jennifer Hwozdek, Outreach and Fundraising Coordinator.

Additionally, Ridgelines’ 2022 programs are supported in part by the Center Foundation’s J. Alvin and Vera E. Knepper Hawbaker Memorial Endowment Fund, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and a Challenge America Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. .

If you are looking for ways to engage people living with memory loss through pictures, images, artwork, or other creative processes, the following resources have been invaluable for “A Poem in our eyes”

  • TimeLeaflets (www.timeslips.org) offers simple tools and training on creativity in memory care.
  • Pictures to Share (https://picturestoshare.co.uk/) is a publisher of books designed to engage people with memory loss.
  • Creativity and communication in people with dementiaby Claire Craig and John Killick (2012), describes many types of creative projects designed for people living with memory loss.

Ridgelines teaches and celebrates the language arts that bring people together, honor unheard voices, and start meaningful conversations in the ridges and valleys of central Pennsylvania. The local nonprofit teaches language arts — from poetry and creative writing to songwriting, civic writing and speaking, and storytelling — in settings outside of academic institutions, such as as low-income nursing homes, youth centers, prisons, LGBTQA+ youth groups and Suite.

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