May is Older Americans Month. Designated in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, this time is set aside to recognize the contributions that seniors make in their communities. We at the McLean County Museum of History agree that history is made every day and by people of all ages.
No matter the month, our Senior Reminiscence Program brings professional museum educators and materials directly to assisted living communities, senior centers, and adult day service facilities. During these interactive programs seniors are invited to manipulate real objects, view enlarged historic photographs, and share their stories. The Museum is proud to provide this free program, which stimulates cognition, increases socialization, and encourages dialogue among participants, no matter a senior’s physical or cognitive ability.
A Long History of Service
The roots of the Senior Reminiscence Program date to 1987. At that time, the program transported a broad range of museum artifacts to senior communities with the goal of learning more about the uses and histories of these objects. In the process, leaders discovered that seniors also benefitted from the experience. The program was well received by local senior organizations and even garnered national media attention. What’s more, this pilot project is the earliest known example of cultural programming at senior centers in Illinois, if not the country. Due to staff and resource limitations, however, the program declined until 2005. Since that time our educators have presented nearly 460 programs to over 8,700 seniors. Participants share intriguing, personal stories, such as collecting eggs from a reluctant hen, performing ballet on the New York stage, hitchhiking along Route 66, and training race horses. Our leaders never know what they will discover when talking with area seniors!
Extending Excellence Boosts Senior Programming
As a result of the ongoing success of the Museum’s Extending Excellence campaign to upgrade our exhibits and technology and to expand the Education Department, the Senior Reminiscence Program has seen tremendous growth recently. Our service area now includes facilities in seven central Illinois counties—McLean, Livingston, DeWitt, Logan, Tazewell, Woodford, and Ford. In the past year, we have seen a double-digit increase in the number of programs, organizations, and seniors that our program serves. And we continue to adapt our program offerings to better target the lives and experiences of seniors today by expanding to include topics such as Route 66 and women’s fashion.
Our educators have been hard at work ensuring that stimulating programming is available to as many Illinois seniors as possible. For instance, this spring we designed and led a professional development workshop for 20 professionals from 18 cultural and senior care organizations across the state. The goal of this workshop was to introduce attendees to the needs of the seniors and the benefits of performing their own programs for older adults. Their responses were extremely positive, and we look forward to what services they will create in their own communities. Our reach has further expanded with a recently published story in Illinois Country Living magazine about the Museum’s work with older adults.
Collecting Memories, Building Community
These programs help preserve the community’s collective memory by accessing the (often hidden) life experiences of the people who shaped history. Furthermore, a ripple effect occurs when we demonstrate compassion towards members of underserved populations: We elevate the quality of life for the entire community. President Kennedy would be pleased.
For more information on the Senior Reminiscence Program or to schedule a program, contact the Education Department at email@example.com or 309-827-0428. To learn how you can contribute to the Museum’s Extending Excellence campaign, reach out to Lauren Lacy, Director of Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.