Moving to moving stories

  • Jodi Falk, left, leads the Moving Wisdom: Hidden Lives program Wednesday afternoon at Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Jodi Falk, right, leads the Moving Wisdom: Hidden Lives program. A grant enables her to go into three local nursing homes to work with residents and nursing students on movement. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Jodi Falk, right, mimics movements with Debi McEnaney, a second-year Greenfield Community College nursing student, while leading the Moving Wisdom: Hidden Lives program. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Alice Marshall participates in the program at Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Debi McEnaney, a second-year Greenfield Community College nursing student, left, interacts with participants. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Bridget Licata, a first-year Greenfield Community College nursing student, works with residents. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Jodi Falk leads the Moving Wisdom: Hidden Lives program at Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility in Greenfield. Falk said, “Movement is life. We’re going to move today.” STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Debi McEnaney, a second-year Greenfield Community College nursing student, interacts with a participant of the “Moving Wisdom: Hidden Lives” program at Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 4/17/2019 11:21:10 PM

GREENFIELD — Just about everyone arrived in wheelchairs. A few shuffled in, either on their own or with help. They didn’t have far to go, though. They had just left their rooms in Charlene Manor Extended Care and arrived in the dining room, where others were waiting.

Before the last had settled in, “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole began to play and Jodi Falk yelled out, “You are all unforgettable!” Then, with a warm welcome, she got them dancing in their seats, and before too long, they couldn’t contain their smiles.

“Movement is life,” Falk said. “We’re going to move today.”

The longtime dancer, who recently became the director of Rachel’s Table, a program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts that works to alleviate hunger and reduce food waste, received a grant last fall that is allowing her to go into three local nursing homes – Charlene Manor, Poet’s Seat Health Care Center and Buckley HealthCare Center – this spring and work not only with their residents, but nursing students studying at Greenfield Community College, on movement and what a difference it can make in anyone’s life.

“I’ve always been in the arts, and I have to keep my feet on the dance floor,” Falk said. “I love sharing my passion.”

She got the idea for the Greenfield Local Cultural Council grant, which is funded in part by the state cultural council, after losing both of her parents over the last few years. Her father, who died most recently, was a doctor. Toward the end of his life, he had moved from a condo to assisted living and, finally, to a nursing home.

“During the last week of his life, I was there,” Falk said. “I saw him in the hospital where the workers didn’t know him. They did their jobs well, but they didn’t know him. I wanted to see a sense of caring beyond giving him his meds and the obvious.”

So, Falk said she hanged photos of him and his life in his private room.

“That started conversations,” she said. “Nurses would walk through the door and look at the pictures and start talking to him about them. He went from Mr. Falk to Dr. Falk. He got a little more personal care, touch, connection.”

Falk said she decided to create a program, Moving Wisdom: Hidden Lives, to take into nursing homes, offering student nurses the opportunity to join because she wants caregivers to see that their patients are more than just people lying in beds – she wants them to see their patients as people with rich stories. And, even if they can’t always verbalize them, they can use gestures that can be interpreted.

Falk got the hour started by asking each resident and nursing student to take a prop. There were scarves, a toy elephant, a toy car, a pirate’s hat and more. Then, around the circle they went, giving their first names and making a gesture or movement with the prop at the same time. Each participant repeated the person’s name and movement, so by the time the introduction was over, everyone had moved more than a dozen times.

“It’s great to see the development as residents go through this,” said Bridget Licata, a first-year nursing student. “Jodi pushes them beyond their normal or typical movements. It’s so good. Through this program, I’ve been told by residents that they ‘can’t,’ but by the time the hour is over, they can. Some have moved without even knowing it.”

Licata said she has learned that the people she has met aren’t just residents of nursing homes, but people with really interesting stories.

“It really doesn’t take a lot to see the person behind the illness,” she said.

Debi McEnaney, a second-year nursing student, said it has been an emotional experience for her.

“I see transitions in such a short time,” McEnaney said. “They come in disabled, reserved. They leave singing, dancing, alive. These are active members of our community.”

And Falk is hoping this project brings that awareness to people on the outside. There will be an exhibit of photos and videos of the project at GCC in the fall. She said dates and times will be announced.

“These people are hidden away,” Falk said. “Family and friends stop in from time to time, but the rest of the community doesn’t necessarily know about them.”

Falk said she herself wasn’t sure what to expect when she started the project.

“I didn’t know if it would be depressing,” she said. “I didn’t know if people would think it was silly. Not at all. It has been one of the most moving experiences – I think for everyone involved.”

Falk “debriefs” with nursing students after each session.

“We discuss what we did, what it means and what we should do about it,” she said. “They can take this into their careers.”

Falk said that, of course, nurses and caregivers first have to think about residents’ health and comfort, but after that, they should be able to look beyond all of that to the people who have families and friends, had careers, had lives outside of the nursing home.

One of the activities she leads during the hour is mirroring. Each resident pairs with a nursing student and the two follow and mirror each other’s movements. Then, they tell each other stories, and those listening, watch the gestures the storyteller is making. At the end of the exercise, each three- to four-person group creates a dance with all of the movements each storyteller made. As everyone dances to the music played with the stories, they mirror the movements, as well.

Residents told each other about their lives, their families, their children, the loves of their lives, sports they played – everything that makes a person’s life whole.

“It’s all about active listening with their ears and their eyes,” Falk said. “Every person has a story, many stories. Every movement a person makes tells those stories.

Gracie Lapointe talked about Jack, the love of her life. As she spoke, without even realizing, she crossed her arms over her heart as she told others about what a wonderful man he was and how much she loved him and loved dancing with him.

Alice Marshall, a resident of Charlene Manor, said she had a great time telling and listening to stories.

“I love doing activities and this one really got me moving,” she said. “I listened to the stories and realized we’re all the same. I met people I haven’t met here before.”

Falk concluded by playing Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Residents once again danced, clapped and tapped their toes. Many sang out. One group sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the same time.

As she started back to her room, Lapointe said to a couple of the younger people in the room, “If you want to do something, don’t put it off. And, move!”


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