A! Magazine for the Arts

SPARK! participants joined for a program with a "Gardening and Planting" theme.

SPARK! participants joined for a program with a "Gardening and Planting" theme.

If memory serves: Community service partnership provides a SPARK!

July 20, 2019

JOHNSON CITY – A monthly program now under way in Johnson City involves a partnership between numerous community agencies that brings a creative “SPARK!” to individuals living with memory loss.

In the summer of 2018, the staff of the Reece Museum at East Tennessee State University arranged for a two-day SPARK! Training session that brought Dawn Koceja, accessibility and inclusion coordinator at the Milwaukee Public Museum in Wisconsin, to campus. Included in that training were staff and volunteers from the museum, as well as Alzheimer’s Tennessee, Visiting Angels, Home Instead, In Home Services and Smoky Mountain Home Health and Hospice.

Koceja was instrumental in establishing a cultural program at MPM for people with memory loss and their partners. Inspired by a similar engagement program at New York’s Museum of Modern Art called Meet Me, the MPM iteration, named SPARK!, led to a SPARK! Alliance that consists of over 22 museums and cultural organizations in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Northeast Tennessee version of SPARK! Is the first outside of those two initial states to institute a program accessible to families living with Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss.

“When we first reached out to Ms. Koceja, she said it was imperative that the museum partner with a regional memory loss organization that understands the intricacies of the disease,” said Randy Sanders, Reece Museum director. “I immediately thought of Alzheimer’s Tennessee.”

Sanders approached Tracey Kendall-Wilson, regional director of Alzheimer’s Tennessee Inc., who jumped at the opportunity to be involved and reached out to representatives from Visiting Angels, Home Instead, In Home Services and Smoky Mountain Home Health and Hospice.

The result of their efforts is a one-and-a-half-hour SPARK! program, which is held the first Tuesday of each month from 11:30 a.m.to 1 p.m. at the Memorial Park Community Center in Johnson City. Each program has a theme related to something that happens that month or season, and all programs are geared to those living with dementia and their family member or care partner.

After participants enjoy lunch, an opening participatory question breaks the ice and is followed by various activities, including a segment featuring one or more artifacts from the Reece Museum’s collections tied to the month’s theme.

The SPARK! program is free and open to anyone living with dementia. Each participant must be accompanied by a care partner or family member.

“We are thankful to the Reece Museum for realizing the huge benefit and bringing SPARK! to our community,” Kendall-Wilson says. “Additionally, we would not be able to provide the program without the amazing support of Memorial Park Community Center and volunteers.

“We have seen friendships made, care partners learning from one another, and wonderful social interactions truly spark our participants, which is really what it is all about. We encourage others to join this unique experience.”

To learn more about SPARK!, call Alzheimer’s Tennessee at 423-232-8993. Memorial Park Community Center is located at 510 Bert Street, Johnson City.