Coming Full Circle in the Service of Others

“Service: the action of helping or doing work for someone.” Oxford Dictionary

I heard the stories: three Uncles serving at the same time, two in the Army and one in the Navy. The small banner in my Grandparents’ window with three stars marked their simultaneous service. On the front lines and in multiple conflicts during World War II, they all returned safely. Later, my Dad (the youngest) volunteered for the draft and served, first in Germany and then stateside, also returning safely.

The idea of service has long been important to me. It became the cornerstone for what I wanted to do professionally and how I wanted to be. It had been modeled countless times in my youth: serve someone in a way that empowers them, uplifts their spirit and expands their sense of self. Combined with my family history, words like honor and selflessness to me were synonymous with courage, creativity and connection.

This is why I’m so passionate about working with Veterans/their loved ones. The sacrifices made are life-long. When one gives so deeply, to be nourished later from a creative outlet can be restorative and joyous. It’s a powerful experience. One hears, “I see you. I respect you. And you are just as important as ever.”

Two incredible examples come to mind as I reflect on 16+ years of “doing” TimeSlips: the first while I co-facilitated a program at senior centers in Cleveland funded by a local arts and culture grant. Over a two-year period, individuals explored the idea of self and how they could give back through creative engagement in a TimeSlips, Music- and Art Therapy-based group.

In one instance, individuals cut out lyrics of a freedom song they wrote based on their TimeSlips story. With the outside of a paper towel tube decorated in red, white, blue and the song lyrics, the inside had a thank you note to a fellow veteran and the original story. The ends were decorated with tassels to look like a firecracker that could open easily to the gifts inside.

One gentleman, with tears, said, “It feels good that I can still do something for others,” as he affixed the tassels. We ran out of supplies, eventually delivering 40 of these artful messages to the local VA hospital.

Another example, this time from Pennsylvania, as I had the honor of representing TimeSlips while we worked with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (DMVA).

Five teaching artists had residencies alongside DMVA staff in 6 homes. While training in TimeSlips, all involved planned and implemented regular creative engagement with veterans, culminating in a huge celebration at each site. The program started with 24 individuals training and ended up with 36 becoming certified facilitators within a 7-month period. The sheer output of high-level created art was staggering, not to mention the lives changed (mine included).

At each visit I made, the residents would ask if the program could continue. Many who previously didn’t come to groups were now recruiting others. And before the pilot program finished, the DMVA and PCA were working to continue the partnership with new artist residencies at several sites.

At one celebration, a family walked up and hugged me. “We never knew our Dad was so talented,” they said with tears in their eyes. “We are hearing for the first time some of the things he accomplished in the service, and he’s a pretty darn good artist, too. Can you please let your people know you’re changing lives?” They said they never imagined someone with Dementia could be artistic and contribute so much.

They served. We serve. And together, they change our lives by their fearless desire to create.

Kathy Hawkins Kathy has been a TimeSlips Facilitator for 16 years and is a Board-Certified Music Therapist. She is currently acting as TimeSlips’ Program Coordinator. Her areas of expertise include intergenerational programming, creativity and aging and dementia care. She is a sought-after conference presenter and lecturer who worked at Heather Hill as the staff Music Therapist/Internship Director/Supervisor for 10 years.