Art is a form of communication. It can mean a million things to a million different people, but it speaks to everyone.
True to our spirit of innovation, Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati knew that introducing an art program to our Adult Day Service program for people with disabilities, would speak volumes. Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is an award-winning, evidence-based program to support people with dementia and other neurocognitive disorders.The story of how this widely-replicated, international program came to be at Easterseals in Cincinnati has a very personal touch.
“Its failure-free program provides opportunities for creative self-expression and social engagement for people with dementia. OMA also provides volunteers with opportunities to improve their attitudes toward aging through the weekly interaction with OMA program participants.”- From the OMA website
Susan Mordigal has been with Easterseals for several years as a Service Coordinator in the Work and Grow program. Work and Grow places individuals at a partner work site where they divide their day between paid work and integrated recreational activities. This position has made Susan keenly aware of the sense of empowerment that employment provides. Every day she sees the individuals she serves thrive and beam with pride as they meet goals and learn new skills. Which reminded Susan of her mother.
Susan studied Fine Arts in college. When her mother was diagnosed with dementia, she became her primary caregiver. Susan discovered a passion for advocating for the elderly, which inspired her to earn her Master’s in Social Work.
While caring for her mother, however, Susan utilized a program where her mother could express herself: Opening Minds through Art. The program restored a sense of autonomy for her mother, providing the opportunity to make decisions for herself for the first time in a long time. Susan recalls the joy it brought her mother and wanted to share that joy with the individuals served by Easterseals.
“As an artist and social worker, combined with my love of serving our most vulnerable of populations, it has been a long time dream of mine to offer something new and beneficial for our seniors,” says Susan.
The initiative ultimately became a family affair. Susan spoke to her brother, Steve Herrup, about the program, its impact and her desire to bring it to Easterseals. He thought it was fantastic.
“People go from living robust lives and playing with their grandchildren to basically no longer having control over their decisions such as what to eat for lunch,” he reflected. “This program is all about empowerment. It gives people the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.”
The OMA program at Easterseals is made more successful because of the interns and volunteers who support the artists. “I literally could not do it without them, and they work very, very hard,” Susan said. “OMA relies on 1:1 consistent contact to ensure the program's success.”
But Susan was frank about the unglamorous but real challenge of funding. Steve, who lives in New York, quickly offered to support the program financially as much as he could. Then he went above and beyond, and told his company, Varadero Capital, about the program and its impact. Moved by his passion for the project, Varadero pledged to match Steve’s donation.
Building on this momentum, Easterseals was able to leverage Steve and Varadero’s investment to secure pilot funding for OMA through ArtsWave – a local arts organization dedicated to advancing the vitality and vibrancy of the community through inclusive art opportunities.
When asked what inspired him to invest so fully and readily, he responded thoughtfully, “It was to do something kind. Our lives are constantly being rushed and we are constantly looking forward to the next thing. We as a society need to slow down and just do something kind.”
Although it is still in its first year, OMA has been a success so far! Each week, unique art is created and friendships are formed. “I enjoy coming to Art every week” shared one of the participants.
Easterseals is humbled by the passion of Susan, the advocacy of Steve, and the support of Varadero Capital. We are committed to continuing to make this dream a reality so that the individuals we serve can experience the joy of art and pride of independence. But it will not happen without continued support from the community. If you or someone you know is interested in continuing OMA in Greater Cincinnati, please give generously.