OMA: Opening Minds through Art at Moorings Park Communities

October 07, 2021

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Often times, in long-term care centers, opportunities for creative self-expression among individuals with memory issues tend to fall short. Think about how important self-expression is in terms of maintaining identity, emotions and happiness. Without a creative outlet, life can lack color. 

Luckily, there is a program that fills that gap. 

What is OMA?

“Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is an award-winning, evidence-based, intergenerational art-making program for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of neurocognitive disorders. 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,” according to the OMA website.

OMA at Moorings Park Communities

Moorings Park Communities is proud to have integrated this creative program for residents to benefit from.

The program is taught and directed by our Art Instructor, Kim Willis, who witnessed the beginning of the program at Moorings Park five years ago.

OMA, which takes place once every semester, relies heavily on volunteers, as each resident is paired with a volunteer to help create various works of art and offer friendship. The program consists of nine sessions, plus two training classes.

“We match each volunteer with a particular resident; we try to think about personality types and try to make a good match because they’re going to be their social and painting partner for a nine-week stretch,” says Willis.

In most cases, Willis scouts out high school and college-aged students since it is an intergenerational program. Willis has made a connection and partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University and local high schools; students can earn over 33 hours of service credit for participating in the full 11-week program.

“We look for younger people to volunteer as that can often be an incentive for Memory Care residents to participate,” says Willis. “It’s a wonderful experience to have someone like your grandchild sitting next to you, encouraging and conversing with you.”

That being said, OMA has been known to positively change the attitude, knowledge and comfort level towards individuals with dementia.

“My heart is full. This training was personal but formal and informative. Team building and opportunities to learn experientially with role-play was amazing,” reports one trainee.

Freedom to Express

An art activity takes place each week, but a range of materials are provided so residents have the freedom to use them in any way they’d wish, which is quite beneficial for developing and encouraging unique, personal self-expression.

These art classes are a rare time where people living with dementia have the freedom to make their own decisions as that is not always the case in their everyday lives.

While the program invites freedom and creativity, socialization is also a vital focus. Each class begins and ends with singing as a fun ritual. Willis even surveys the residents before each session to see how they feel before they start painting and socializing, and then surveys them at the end. She reports that about 90% of the time, they feel better and their emotions have improved. After all, art is known to relieve stress.

In the end, Willis and the volunteers show the residents their work framed. “Oftentimes, they don’t believe they did their work. They create amazing pieces, so they’re skeptical when they create something so beautiful. We celebrate that beauty at the end of the program with an art show.”

All residents and staff of the Moorings Park Communities, along with artists’ family members and the student participants, are encouraged to attend. The art show not only empowers the artists but also becomes a method to educate the public about the capability and creativity of individuals with dementia.

Many times, the paintings are offered to the families of the artist as a sweet remembrance of their loved ones or are recycled into lovely greeting cards. Furthermore, some art pieces are raffled off at the Alzheimer’s Walk where proceeds are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association. 

The OMA program helps educate the community and assists in fighting the stigma attached to dementia by educating and providing younger individuals with first-hand experiences with people with memory impairments.

“It’s very rewarding,” comments Willis. “Our residents are just wonderful; they embrace their partners and Moorings Park Communities staff as their own family in many ways, and I feel so honored to be able to work with them.”

To learn more about how to volunteer for OMA, or to learn more about Moorings Park Communities, please visit or call 239-643-9111.

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