On a crisp fall morning, a group of 13 senior citizens gather in a brightly lit classroom at The Mustard Seed Project in Key Center.
With vivid paintings lining the walls around the room, it’s likely the beautiful images are not-so-subtle inspiration for the Mixed Media class lead by instructor Pat Thompson, now in session.
The class quiets as Thompson opens a discussion on the color wheel and how complementary colors are positioned opposite from each other.
“When you put them together, it makes for a more exciting combination,” he said.
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As an organization dedicated to helping the older adults of Key Peninsula age in place, the classes are an exciting addition to The Mustard Seed Project’s programming primarily focused on serving basic needs. Instead, these classes allow older adults to explore their creative talents in a supportive environment. The current round of classes titled “So You’ve Always Wanted To Try …” offer a series of art classes focused on a specific artistic medium including drawing, water colors and the aforementioned mixed media, run in partnership with Two Waters Arts Alliance.
“Over the years, we’d had bits of conversations on the idea of putting on art classes for older adults, but we hadn’t gotten that far,” said Edie Morgan, executive director of The Mustard Seed Project.
After the organization moved into its new building last year, and the focus switched to creating a community gathering space, the idea gained momentum.
“Some folks from Two Waters Arts Alliance helped us put on our annual fundraiser last summer and we talked about the idea of supporting exploration of creativity in later life,” Morgan said. “Then, Two Waters Arts Alliance spotted a grant opportunity and wrote a funding proposal for the Greater Gig Harbor Community Foundation, who gave our programming partnership $500 to help make it happen. We are very grateful and look forward to many more and varied arts activities in this space.”
So, why add an arts program?
There is increasing research that art demonstrates improved emotional, psychological and physical health for older adults who engage in all kinds of creative activities — not just visual arts, but music, dance and writing.
Edie Morgan, executive director of The Mustard Seed Project
“There is increasing research that art demonstrates improved emotional, psychological and physical health for older adults who engage in all kinds of creative activities — not just visual arts, but music, dance and writing,” Morgan said. And, “… the brain is stimulated by these activities in ways that science is just beginning to understand. Cognition is improved, depression and anxiety are reduced, self-esteem is increased and the list goes on.”
“It’s like mediation,” said Thompson, the instructor. “It’s very therapeutic. Once you get going, you can get lost in it. It puts your focus elsewhere.”
“Yes! It takes your mind off things!” echoed a class participant.
Two Waters Arts Alliance traditionally works with children, most notably in its Artists in Schools and After School Arts programs. The alliance also has a history of working collaboratively with other Key Peninsula organizations to promote its belief that arts are central to a community’s well-being and to support its goal to maintain vibrant arts programs on the Key Peninsula.
The partnership has not gone unappreciated; students were happy to give their reviews of the “So you’ve always wanted to try ...” program:
“I wanted to open my experience to different kinds of art,” said Linda Johnson of Lakebay. “I like to do this for relaxation and just to see if I can do it. I took watercolor and this (mixed media). I love that the community is offering this for seniors, it’s a wonderful social outlet.”
Her sister, Sheri Osborne, appreciates the opportunity to learn.
“I came in here not knowing anything about mixed media,” she said. “I think it’s important that we participate. It’s been very educational.”
The Mustard Seed Project is a nonprofit organization serving more than 800 individuals, and recorded 4,305 instances of service in 2016. At any given time, the organization has 75 to 80 volunteers helping in all facets. It is known for not just serving seniors, but their families, friends, neighbors and other senior service professionals as well.
The Mustard Seed Project is a cause close to Morgan’s heart.
“This all started as a personal search for my calling in life,” she said. “I had been a social worker in long-term care and with children and youth and it was time to find my next focus.”
She made a connection with a friend researching the concept of “aging in place” and “elder-friendly communities,” which led to developing a survey to determine what older adults felt was necessary to age in place locally. Once that connection was made, Morgan’s path became clear and the idea for building an elder-friendly Key Peninsula was born.
And the correlation to mustard seeds? That evolved, too.
“There is the parable of the mustard seed as the tiniest seed that grows into a large bush which shelters the birds of the field. I loved that symbolism,” said Morgan.
And then she found the quote that said, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains.” That clinched it for her.
“We’re not a faith-based organization, but there is great heart and spirit in what we do for our elders, together, as a community,” Morgan said.
The Mustard Seed Project is located in the Crandall Center at 9016 154th Ave. Ct. in Lakebay. Classes in the “So you’ve always wanted to try …” program are $25 for a series of four classes.
To learn more about the organization or to sign up, call 253-884-9814.