Creative spark: Homeland residents’ artworks bring cheer to sick children


Homeland residents' artowrkAfter Homeland resident Joanna Kaisin colored an intricate scene of sun and leaves in green, yellow, and orange, she chose purple for the border.

“It’s a happy color,” she said.

A “spark of creativity” surged through Homeland Center for September’s National Assisted Living Week. The 2019 theme, “A Spark of Creativity,” recognized the potential for personal care residents, staff, and families to unleash their inner artists and find such benefits as improving cognitive and sensory-motor functions, building self-esteem, and reducing stress.

Homeland Center embraced the theme with an array of creative ventures, bringing new ideas to its weekly art classes and introducing an initiative that benefits hospitalized children.

On a Saturday morning, residents gathered in the Homeland solarium to decorate bags for Caitlin’s Smiles. The organization is named after Caitlin Hornung, a Harrisburg-area girl who spent the last years of her short life in and out of hospitals, getting treatment for a malignant brain tumor.

Young Caitlin’s spirit never wavered, and she found her greatest joy in creating art. After her death in 2000, her mother, Cheryl Hornung vowed to bring the same relief from pain and fear to hospitalized children. Today, Caitlin’s Smiles recruits an army of volunteers to prepare craft kits for children and teens. They are distributed to hospitals throughout Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and other states.

Those craft kits are packaged in “Bags of Smiles” that start out as plain white but are decorated with love by caring individuals. That’s where Homeland residents enter the picture. Every other Saturday, they are now decorating bags that will deliver cheer to a hospitalized child somewhere.

The opportunity to brighten the day of a sick child gives residents new purpose and a feeling of contributing, says Homeland Activities Assistant Lateefah Battle.

“When you tell them about Caitlin’s Smiles and give them a bag to decorate, it brings out more of their energy,” she says. “They say, ‘We’re doing it for the children.’”

Homeland residents' artworkResident Ann Soder agrees that her bag was sending best wishes to a sick child somewhere.

“It’s a good project for us to do, that children have cancer, and maybe we can bring some brightness into their day and show that we care for them,” she says. “Our wishes for them is to keep up their treatments, and we pray that you will be well.”

Ann started by pasting her bag with stickers declaring “Think happy, be happy,” and “Good things take time.” Then she picked up a blue marker and drew a kite flying in the air.

“Well, somewhat of a kite,” she said. While the residents might disparage their artistic talents, they love pouring their hearts into their imaginative works. Homeland staff and volunteers provide the encouragement residents need to nurture their creative instincts.

Earlier in National Assisted Living Week, a weekly art class offered a new idea – the chance to contribute to a mural. Under the direction of art instructor Taqiyya Muhammad, residents colored inspirational sayings – “Believe you can, & you will,” “You are amazing” – intended to hang as a mural-style grouping in Homeland’s popular Main Gathering Room.

At that session in Homeland’s Lick Library, resident Joanna Kasian says she’s not a good artist. “I would put eyes, probably on each finger I draw,” she says. But that doesn’t stop her from bringing her inspirational motto – “Believe in yourself” – to life with yellows and greens and purples.

Homeland residents enjoy their artistic endeavors, says Muhammad.

Homeland residents' artwork“They do amazing work in art class, our little hour,” she says. “It seems like it goes by so fast.” Some are so enthusiastic about their pieces that, “depending on how intricate or how detailed they want to make it, they say they’ll come back and finish it next week.”

Resident Gloria Mineur also admits that she has no artistic ability, but she’s pleased with her efforts at adding colorful details to a drawing declaring “Love One Another.”

Mary Graves appreciated what she and her fellow Homeland residents were accomplishing. She decorated her bag with a yellow sunflower, sprouting from a pot bejeweled with sparkly stickers.

“The kids will like that,” she says.