Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Seniors with dementia create art for fundraiser

The handmade greeting cards raise funds for Alzheimer’s Association in recognition of World Alzheimer’s Month.

Greeting cards featuring art created by the seniors are set out on display at the entrance to Town Center Sarasota.
Greeting cards featuring art created by the seniors are set out on display at the entrance to Town Center Sarasota.
Photo by Ian Swaby
  • Sarasota
  • Neighbors
  • Share

Stepping into Town Square Sarasota senior care facility, visitors are greeted by a remarkable sight: a display of greeting cards showcasing a variety of designs, from button-formed shapes to abstract compositions.

Yet the surprise doesn't end there. Beyond the lobby is something you're unlikely to find anywhere else — a 1950s-style town setup, entirely indoors, complete with different rooms fashioned as individualized shops.

And looking inside one of the storefronts, you might just find seniors at work, creating the artwork for the very cards you passed on the way inside.

“I like to do painting anytime I get a chance," said attendee June Finklea on Aug. 13.

Last month, thanks to sales to the general public, including day care members and their families, the cards generated approximately $900 in proceeds for Alzheimer’s Association, said Michael Finn, who co-owns Town Square with his wife Sherri Finn.

The center ramped up its efforts with the cards last month in honor of September, which is World Alzheimer's Month, said Michael Finn. Most of the seniors who attend the day care center have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

“It seems to connect with people,” said Sherri Finn. “People are happy to get a really nice thing that they can use, that someone here made, which is awesome.”

Creative impact

Part of value of these cards, as noted by the staff, lies in the impact they have on the seniors involved in their creation.

The art sessions are just one way that the attendees at the day center, who may spend much of their time at home, are able to blossom and socialize again, said Michael Finn.

“The art program is just part of all the programs but it's a really important piece of the puzzle,” he said.

The attendees behind the cards range from those with an established history in art to those with no background at all.

Mary Kregenow and June Finklea create artwork.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Art sessions take place nearly every day, drawing 40 to 50 participants. On Aug. 13, seniors could be seen using brushes and an assortment of paints to create multicolored swirls, adorned with glitter. 

The crafts do not end with the art for the cards.

In a corner are palm fronds painted to resemble blue marlins and in another corner rests a small, bare tree that the staff refer to as the center's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" tree for this year.

Jill Grinnell, the center’s director and a 33-year veteran of dementia centers, said the art reveals the untapped potential of the seniors.

The program dates back to a moment when one attendee produced a drawing, which he disliked and wanted discarded. Staff admired the artwork, with Sherri Finn having the idea to incorporate it into a greeting card, thus starting the initiative.

“I think sometimes people initially are intimidated by art because they think they need to be an artist,” Grinnell said. “We are allowing people to come in and encouraging them to be creative and see what they’re capable of, because we're providing everything for them. We're providing them the encouragement and then we are adapting it to what their abilities are.”

Grinnell also shared another story involving a recent member who, on her first day, used her finger to create blue squiggles in an acrylic pouring art piece. The next day, her husband was surprised by her talent, as she had never painted before.  

“We just let her be her,” she said. “She was amazed. He was amazed. He was proud. She was proud. And now people want to come in here, they want to try.”

However, some seniors are also embracing their artistic backgrounds.

Among them is Bruce White, a Chicago-based sculptor and retired art professor, who has been responsible for numerous installations around Sarasota including Four Winds at New College, Meander behind the Federal Building, and Samurai, near Sarasota City Hall.

Despite his dementia, White still continues in art, crafting drawings with carefully designed abstract images.

“He's moved from creating massive steel beam sculptures outdoors, to drawing, but the drawing that he's doing is incredible,” said Michael Finn. “They’re wonderful and he's just such an amazing part of what goes on here.”

Bruce White
Photo by Ian Swaby

White has bonded with another attendee, Ray Melderis, and enjoys working on art alongside him.

Art is just one of the offerings found in the retro-style "town," which also includes exercise activities, game rooms, music sessions, a 1950s-style movie theater and more.

As Aug. 13 marked National School Picture Day, the center decided to celebrate by taking student-like pictures of the seniors, including playful shots.

When seniors register with the center, Town Square's trained staff assess the cognitive abilities of new members and assign them to groups that best suit them.

A third of attendees are veterans, for whom attendance costs are covered by the VA.

One benefit of the day center, said Michael Finn, is that it gives families a break in order to perform errands, go to appointments, or perform other activities, while knowing that the seniors are receiving engagement socialization and making friends again — that they are “really well cared for and having fun.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

Latest News