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Residents at senior facility in Front Royal embracing new hobby
By M.K. Luther -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- What started as volunteer activity has become a passion at one local senior facility.
Annette Tait has gone from being a volunteer teaching art to senior residents to a full-time art director, leading a robust program of sophisticated art instruction providing professional-styled exhibits at Loving Arms Assisted Living in Front Royal.
Small classes, usually about three to five residents, gather in an activity room at the facility three days a week, with ample light pouring through the windows and breathtaking views of the mountains in the distance.
"It is therapeutic for them," Tait said. "It is so calming."
The small classes allow the residents to work on their own, with Tait providing instruction and guidance. The space also allows for the residents to be comfortable, and can accommodate wheelchairs or walkers.
"I can really spend time with them," Tait said. "I can really get to know them -- they are very interesting, the lives they have led and the stories they tell."
Tait relocated a few years ago from Centreville and began working with the seniors to be closer to her husband, who is a resident at Loving Arms.
Tait formerly taught art in Fairfax to people with disabilities and seniors through the community services and recreation department, but this was her first experience at being a director of a program.
Tait said her classes focus on the beginning level of instruction, and the residents work with graphite, pen and ink and watercolor.
"Most of them have not had any experience," Tait said. "Most of them have never had an art class."
The proud mother of five children and nine grandchildren also gives art instruction from her home.
Tait is now planning an art exhibit at Loving Arms starting April 23, and an art show on May 14 and 15, allowing the residents an opportunity to show their work to the public.
Families often frame the finished artwork, Tait said, and so the residents are making invaluable personal keepsakes for their loved ones. Residents' family members cherish the art, and notice the difference in their loved ones, Tait said.
"They see what beautiful work they have done," Tait said. "It is something tangible they can take with them."
The artwork also helps the residents open up, letting loose and overcoming some of the restrictions of age or physical condition, Tait said.
"The focus is on living," Tait said.
The senior residents have as much to teach and to give as they do to learn themselves, said Loving Arms owner Shelly Cook.
And for those who don't think they have natural talent, the Loving Arms art program is proving that people can unleash the artistic talent later in life.
Cook said the art program is now an essential part of Loving Arms' activities, giving the residents another outlet for both personal and creative expression.
"What I have found is that you don't lose your artistic ability, no matter what level you are at," Cook said. "We have so many people at different levels, but they are all able to artistically produce."
Cook said senior residents overcome any fears or sense of self-consciousness and are not held back by the insecurities many adults are in trying to create new artwork.
"You lose your inhibitions, You lose your 'I'm afraid,'" Cook said. "If they want to draw a balloon, they draw a balloon, if they want to draw a frog, they draw it."
The artwork the residents produce is both sophisticated and raw and can speak volumes of the residents lives and purpose.
"At this point in their life, they are not looking like we are at running to lose 4 pounds," Cook said. "But what they have is what we need. They don't care about the image anymore, it is truly about being the best person you can be."
Loving Arms now plans to use the art to raise money for the nonprofit side of the facility, adding an e-commerce portion to the website and selling art will help seniors, Cook said.
"You have the swing on it -- you can honestly say that their lives are still productive and they are still contributing."
"When you sit them down and tell them that they are producing this for someone else's good, they are motivated again," Cook said.
For more information, visit www.lovingarmsva.com or contact Loving Arms Assisted Living at 635-7923.