“Art is a great medium of connection – when people create together, they connect with one another,” explains Meagan Jain, the artist behind Ageless interAction. The 501-(c)(3) nonprofit program seeks to connect seniors with local youth through the conduit of making art together.
Jain’s work with elders began when she volunteered at a hospice during her freshman year of college. Aside from her experiences with her own grandparents, Jain had little understanding about what life was like as a senior. “Before that time, I had never heard of hospice and I certainly was not aware people died alone,” she said. “I had never been into assisted living homes or senior communities before either. As it turns out, I came to thoroughly enjoy the time I spent with the elder adults receiving hospice care.”
It quickly became apparent that many of the seniors in these facilities rarely had young visitors, so Jain created the Adopt-A-Grandparent Program (AGP) while still in the undergraduate Gerontology program at Georgia State University. “The AGP was my first venture into connecting college students and elders. From there, I feel as though most of this work has been divinely created for me. All the pieces of the puzzle came together seemingly on their own.”
From that initial spark of inspiration, Jain’s initiatives to connect the youth with elders has grown and changed to become what it is today. Ageless interAction came about as an idea in 2012, and became an official non-profit in 2014. Though Jain does all of the nitty-gritty work of running the company behind the scenes, she’s not entirely comfortable with the term Executive Director, and instead prefers, simply, Innovator.
“That’s what Ageless interAction is all about, innovation. Innovation in terms of how we are taking concepts of connection, friendship, aging and the arts and rewiring them to fit new models of creating opportunities for generations to connect, create, break down age stereotypes, and inspiring positive thoughts on aging.”
On December 6, Jain hosted an art event at Adult Day of Dunwoody. Around a large communal table sat approximately a dozen seniors, each painting an outdoor scene with the help of a volunteer and visual aids provided by Jain. One of the volunteers, Meg Mitchell, spoke of the experience in glowing terms.
“It’s really awesome to be able to connect with the older generation and to do something creative,” said Mitchell. The December event was Mitchell’s third time volunteering with Ageless interAction, and she recounts the experience with fondness. The work is at once inspirational and sometimes a bit heartbreaking. “Seeing in their eyes that there is more there trying to get out, even if they can’t speak” really moved Mitchell, and reminded her of her own grandfather-in-law. An artist herself, passionate volunteers such as Mitchell help to bridge the gap to those seniors who may otherwise have difficulty expressing themselves.
Throughout the years, Ageless interAction has provided an outlet for creative expression to a variety of seniors. Oftentimes, participants might begin the workshop with apprehension or self doubt. Phrases like “I can’t paint,” or “I have no artistic ability” are sometimes uttered, but are quickly rebuked by Jain and her crew.
“Everything we do is about authentic creative expression—it’s about the process of getting to know yourself through what and how you create,” Jain elaborated. “When you create, truly create from a place of unencumbered expression with no judgment, art shows you yourself. Art provides us the ability to dive deep into ourselves and bring out what is inside to show the world, visually, what we are trying to express. Humans need to speak and be heard and art provides us this opportunity.”
“Sometimes people find art intimidating because they feel they won’t do it “right.” I hope to help as many people as possible reevaluate that expectation from art that is “right” or “good” to art that is—to art that is organic, authentic and expressive.”
Indeed, the experience is not only transformative for the seniors, but also for those who volunteer. The monthly events take place in senior care facilities throughout the metro Atlanta area, and draw volunteers that range from high schoolers to middle aged adults. “For the younger people who participate, they say their perceptions of aging totally change from being negative to positive and that’s exciting because that’s part of the idea,” said Jain.
Another volunteer present at the December event was Brandon Garrett, who, like Mitchell, had been to several Ageless interAction events. “I love the energy,” said Garrett, whose own background in art gives him an added enthusiasm for working with the program. “There’s so much of a disconnect between youth and senior adults. It’s fun to be part of the connection.”
The future of Ageless interAction looks bright, with plenty of room for expansion. While no events are yet on the books for 2017 Jain anticipates that she will resume monthly events in the new year. With sights set high, Jain hopes to not only find a space to house her operations, but also to scale her concept into something that can be replicated in other cities across the US and beyond.
To stay up to date with Ageless interAction, visit the website at www.agelessinteraction.org and follow their facebook page www.facebook.com/agelessinteraction and instagram account @agelessinteraction. Jain can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.