Classes at retirement community offer creative escape
By Coree Reuter -- Daily correspondent
FRONT ROYAL -- On Monday mornings, students gather for Anne Underwood Arnold's art class at The Southerlands. Most of the students have little experience in drawing, but Arnold shows them the way, as she has been doing for the past 10 years.
"At the moment, I have [about seven] students, and they need about an hour, and I usually bring something to help spark their imagination," said Arnold. "It's very good for them because it gets their minds off their troubles and their illnesses, and they learn from each other and from me, and it's an interesting experience."
The Southerlands, a continuing care retirement community, has been in operation since 1996. The community is targeted to adults over the age of 60, and was the first of its kind in Warren County. The Southerlands caters to independent seniors and those who need assistance, and has been evolving its programs and facilities as the needs of the citizens have grown. In addition to their internal programs, residents are active in community organizations, like the Rotary Club and United Way programs in Front Royal. They seek to provide multi-generational programs that are inclusive to everyone, such as the art classes, which include Arnold's watercolor class and Kelly Walker's acrylic oil painting classes on Tuesdays.
Betsy Blauvelt, director of program services at The Southerlands, said the classes are "let's learn" classes.
"[The classes are] teaching them how to work with color and a different perspective. Some of these folks have never had an art class. Some of them are physically handicapped, but it's amazing what they can do with a paint brush," Blauvelt said. "Some of them need some encouragement, but they enjoy it. It's a way to create and leave your mark, enjoy the camaraderie of the class, and the teachers are very lively and they bring a lot to the style of the class. They both have different styles, and they're both remarkably good."
In addition to the art classes, The Southerlands organizes trips into Washington to complement the classes. Participants visit art museums and enjoy lunch there before heading home.
Arnold, who has been an artist her entire life, teaches pottery and children when she has time.
"[Some of the ladies] can walk, some can't, but they really enjoy it, and it's been good for me, and good for the ladies, too," she said of the classes.
Blauvelt, who said she is receptive to new ideas and programs for The Southerlands residents to try, has found that programs like the art classes have opened up doors for many of the people living in the community.
"One lady who is from New York originally said 'I can't draw' and she has been putting out some wonderful work for someone who felt they couldn't draw," said Blauvelt. "It's the hidden creature we're looking for, the talent that might be there. But even if they make a mess and nothing makes sense, at least they've created something and it's so important for the older generation to feel useful and wanted and appreciated. I try to gently encourage them to do things, and sometimes I'm successful, and sometimes they are, but I try to get everyone to try something. We try to provide things they need and want."