Mickey Bement has a meaningful connection to Opening Minds through Art (OMA) in different capacities over several years. Mickey first became involved with OMA in 2014 when she was a community volunteer with the program. After recovering from an accident that resulted in brain injury and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mickey has come full circle, becoming an OMA participant, and enjoying the benefits from the intergenerational program.
Mickey’s journey with OMA began when she volunteered and was paired up with Helen, a resident at a long-term care community in Oxford, Ohio. During the three terms they were OMA partners, Helen and Mickey grew closer through the simple art projects, quiet personal conversations and extra time visiting together on Saturdays.
Reflecting on their time together, Mickey described Helen as” grounded, and serious, so when I was able to make her laugh it was absolutely delightful. Once we worked on an OMA project using tissue paper and glue. As I held the tissue paper, so it didn’t move while Helen created her art piece, she started painting glue on my fingernails. A sly smile crossed her face, and she looked at me with the most ‘I’m a naughty girl’- look that you could ever imagine. We both burst out laughing. What a wonderful moment to mark the transformation to a more playful Helen, a friend to cherish to the end of her life. Mickey was with Helen the day before she passed away, delivering the paintings and collages Helen had made throughout the semester. They were able to discuss the artwork and how fun the projects were. They ended the day with a loving goodbye and exchange of gratitude. Helen’s son sent an email the next day with the sad news that Helen had died, and thanked Mickey for what she had done for his mother. As grateful as he was, Mickey felt even more thankful that she had the opportunity to know Helen through OMA.
After Helen’s passing, Mickey worked with other artists in OMA, including Kate, a resident who had an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. These partners worked well together laughing and communicating to the best of their abilities until Kate slowly slipped away into her disease and was no longer able to participate.
Although that time was difficult, the blessing of time with Kate was deeply meaningful. During Mickey’s last term volunteering with OMA in 2016, she worked with Martha, the mother of one of her long-time friends. Martha tried her hardest to teach Mickey German, Martha’s first language, but to no avail. They would sing “I’m a Little Teapot” together (in English) and joyfully converse. In September 2016, Mickey had a brain injury that prevented her from continuing to volunteer with OMA.
Following four years of recovery, Mickey was able to join OMA again, this time as a participant. For her, the experience is “amazing and so much fun.” She describes the first term of virtual OMA as finding your way in the dark.
The older adults were in lockdown and the student teammates were transitioning to virtual classes and navigating life during the early days of the pandemic. Despite the obstacles the students were negotiating, they became a cohesive team, sharing their life stories week after week. She has participated in two more terms of virtual OMA, which she describes as “invigorating and fabulous beyond belief.”
Mickey feels virtual OMA classes have “been a real lifeline” for people who are in lockdown or self-imposed isolation during the pandemic. “The opportunity to regularly interact with enthusiastic young people, share our differences in music, art, poetry and life stories was great. Knowing we would meet via computer each week provided the much-needed relief from isolation and the unexpected bonus of new friends.” She states, “OMA helps me be present to the possibilities of a fuller “last chapter” through activities that are stimulating, bring joy and variety, and introduce people I have little or no other way of encountering.” Mickey credits Elizabeth Lokon and the team at OMA for being swift to adapt the program to the virtual platform in order to continue this important intergenerational experience and to offer an alternative to confinement among older adults during the pandemic.
According to Mickey, anything that “involves creativity is nourishing to the soul.” OMA encourages participants to focus on the process, not the product, when creating.
She states, “as an accountant and an artist, I’m letting go of the precision, constraint, the deliberateness that are ever present aspects of my approach to life, and just having fun – with color, form, and a variety of media.” The virtual OMA classes have been a welcome time for her to explore different art forms and express herself creatively.
Living in a university community, Mickey knows that she can become very attached to the transient student population, but they are just passing through on their life journey. The end of the term brings a sad goodbye to OMA partners. However, “OMA provides me with an unforgettable experience to glimpse the lives of young adults who are living in a very different world from the one I knew at their age.” A highlight of virtual OMA for Mickey is seeing the growth in the students as the relationships develop within the Team. She described it as watching an awakening, seeing people come alive through their joy of discovery. “It’s not only what we’re doing, but also who we become to one another in the process. And who we become to ourselves. It’s a very growth-producing experience.” This is evident not only for the older adults involved but it is also a shared sentiment from the students enrolled in virtual OMA. In the Fall of 2021, Mickey worked with Lauren, Gabriella, and Rosemarie as an OMA Team on the poem “A Heartful Thanks,” inspired by e. e. cummings, which describes their experiences with the intergenerational art program offered through Miami University.
A Heartfelt Thanks
Ode to OMA
A poem inspired by the program that brought us together and e.e.cummings
By the OMA Sisterhood Lauren, Gabriella, Rosemary and Mickey
OMA is the “magical hour when is becomes if.”
OMA is creativity and connection.
OMA is friendship and kindness.
zooming across the miles, we greet one another with smiles.
through the screen,
we share sisterhood and joy.
we experience one another’s lives through art and storytelling.
the highlight of my day,
I always want to stay.
our OMA team
is the glitter
in the art of our hearts.
When our time is over
and we must depart
we will carry
US in our hearts.