Category: News

Washington County, Oregon: A Virtually Limitless Creation

Throughout the last two+ years, TimeSlips Creative Storytelling has been witness to the determination and joy that come from learning about each other and creating with one another in new ways through creative play. But what happens when doing so happens in a format that was never the original plan, yet comes with phenomenal results? For the team at Washington County Department of Health and Human Services in Hillsboro, Oregon, this became their experience.

This team was set for in-person training with TimeSlips Project Manager and Trainer, Elaine Maly; and Trainer Liz Nichols in early 2020. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, all involved did a “shift-pivot”, moving the training to an entirely online format and working through the challenges presented. Plane flights and itinerary were scrapped while grappling with how to continue the new training.

Fast-forwarding to 2022, Washington County is now regularly sharing creative engagement within their community and collaborating with Clackamas County, Oregon, staff and interns as they are training. [Editor’s note: For a recent Certified Facilitator Spotlight from the Clackamas County group, click here].

Per Kera Meragill, MA, Older Adult Behavioral Specialist for Washington County, “We have been using TimeSlips to reach out to family caregivers caring for loved ones with dementia at home throughout the course of the pandemic.  Our volunteers hold sessions via zoom and the response has been magical.”

Meragill detailed how this has worked well within a virtual format: with photos from a college- level photography class who create work specially for their program, the volunteers use TimeSlips over Zoom with the person with dementia to write the stories using the photos.

Portland State University Digital Photography Class
Photo Courtesy of Kera Magarill.

“We then professionally print the story and photo, and mail it out as a postcard to the families to enjoy at home,” she continues. “The individual with Dementia creates three to four stories per session over the course of six to eight weeks with the volunteer.

It also has lent itself to other arts modalities to layer in additional creative meaning. Says Meragille: “ We’ve had musicians and actors come to our individual and group sessions to sing the story back as an original song and re-enact the story as a mini play, respectively.”

Here is an excerpt of a story from one of the individuals in the group:

Oh, Yankee Doodle! She was always combing her hair, putting new shoes on.
Medford, Oregon.

She was a winner, she won all the time. Her name is Charlotte.

“Charlotte, get a rabbit! For dinner, rabbit stew!”

Story provided by Shannon Baggerman, MSW Family Caregiver Support Program Coordinator with Washington County Disability, Aging and Veteran Services

Says Elaine Maly, who continued to support the training efforts of the group from her base in Milwaukee, Wisconsin:  “Kera and Shannon’s flexibility and innovation during COVID quarantine restrictions was an inspiration to us all.  They provided a platform for creative engagement for their whole community.”

Says Meragill:  The volunteers love the experience of connecting with people with Dementia in such a meaningful way. The families are thrilled to see their loved ones experiencing joy and creating beautiful stories that they can share with others. One of our volunteers tells us regularly that it is the most meaningful volunteer experience she has ever had and she doesn’t know who enjoys it more, her or the storytellers.

And almost as if a natural crescendo to the work, she concludes: It’s amazing the amount of meaningful moments that we’ve had through the challenges of the pandemic and not being able to be with each other in person. Yet, we have been able to engage our local cultural centers, volunteers, families, students, and artists, and we’re all so motivated to continue sharing the program with others and keep making more connections.

“Art from Within” project of Empres Senior Living in Hillsboro, OR, Spring 2020
Photo courtesy of Cindy Cosenzo
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