From the Student Perspective: TimeSlips NextGen

TimeSlips NextGen Student Perspective
by Cameron Fontes, Western Kentucky University

About a year ago, I drove to Morgantown, Kentucky (about thirty minutes from my school in Bowling Green) to see a performance of Wendy’s Neverland, a site-specific adaptation of Peter Pan. I’d read about this event as I was starting to research TimeSlips to use it with the elder service organization I was reviving on campus, C.O.R.E. (Companions of Respected Elders).

When I walked into Morgantown Care and Rehab Center that afternoon, I was a little confused. There were people milling around, and it looked like all the set pieces weren’t in place yet. At first, I thought I was in the wrong place and needed to find another door to come in, so I asked someone if this was where the play was being performed, to which they replied, “Yes! Are you here to help?”

I said no and pulled out my ticket to show them I was there to attend when I saw on the paper that the play was next Tuesday. I had come a week too early.

The person I was talking to quickly realized the mistake I made and said, “That’s okay, you can stay! We’d love to have you. Jump in and have fun with us if you want!”

While I didn’t facilitate my first TimeSlips session until months later when I went through my training, that day in Morgantown was my first glimpse at why it’s so effective: everyone is welcome to participate, and any contribution is accepted, even if it isn’t what you pictured it would be. I ended up not only helping an elder run through the rehearsal that day, but also coming back to help them through a (real) performance that weekend. I got to see firsthand how artists and people of all disciplines and crafts can come alongside elders to create a unique and beautiful whole.

When I came back to campus after summer break last fall, I was ready to apply what I’d learned to our work with elders in Bowling Green, and over the next couple months the club’s co-president, sponsors, and I became certified and started to do monthly TimeSlips sessions in the long-term care and dementia care units of our local nursing home.

Now, as we’re unable to visit elders in person, we’re working with other groups on campus to make videos that tell folks in facilities we haven’t had the chance to work with how they can do their own storytelling sessions. In a time when elders are even more isolated and vulnerable than normal, our society’s reluctance to regard them as valuable contributors to society becomes all too clear, as does the importance of programs like TimeSlips.

If nothing else, the pandemic has made me even more determined to work with and represent elders in my own creative work after I graduate college next year. It’s my hope that after this crisis, our efforts to create communities of care with elders will emerge even more successful than before as we realize how much we all need interaction and creativity to survive. In the not-too-distant future, I can see a world in which these communities are the new normal, a new kind of Neverland we create for ourselves.