Throughout this fall at the Museum, one of the most impactful programs I have had the privilege of participating in has been SPARK!, a free monthly offering to members of the community with memory loss and their care partners. SPARK! began in 2009 with the goal to help organizations develop programs that are accessible with families living with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory loss.
Last week, artist residency and adult program manager Rachel Hausmann-Schall and I were privileged to attend and present at the 2023 SPARK! Retreat in Oshkosh, at the Paine Art Center and Gardens. While there, we were able to take the time to touch base with other SPARK! programs from across the county, learn from each other, and refresh our knowledge of how to work with people in a way that gives them support and provides a safe environment to explore are, communication, and community. On the second day of the conference we started the morning with a demonstration of Circle Practice, and experience that called us all to be more vulnerable and open with others than I think any of us were expecting at 9:00 in the morning.
This transformative experience, however, hit at the heart of this program in the simplest of ways. During the practice, we were asked to simply say our name, where we came from, and the “why” for doing the work that we were doing. As we moved throughout the circle, we learned, simply through stating three names, what made this program important and impactful for the people around us. It put into perspective what made this program special, not only for the participants but for the facilitators as well. While we left Circle Practice and engaged in an afternoon of “Greatest Hits” often through bad “dad jokes,” or humorous presentations, we were left with a hum in the air that reminded us of why we were there. It wasn’t for the jokes (although those were a bonus, be ready for a slew of terrible bird related jokes) or the remarkable millefiori t-shirts. It was because someone made a mark on our lives, and we wanted to pass that along to others in the simplest way we could. My “why” included my high school choir teacher, Phil Buch, who showed me what a passion for music and learning looked like and how to fight for what was important with an unmatched ferocity. It included my grandfather, John Wilson, who was the light of my childhood and the first person I had a deep relationship with to go through the trials of memory loss. And finally, it included one of my best friends, Missy Habberley, who became an exceptional model of how to preserve through the most difficult of life’s experiences with kindness, compassion, and drive that I have never seen before and will be trying to replicate for the rest of my life.
Who is your “why”?