Local | Religion & Jewish Life

Out & About connects Handmaker residents with Tucson’s cultural scene

Out & About participants on a recent trip, starting with front row, (L-R): Ethel Weissman, Ramon Cruz (driver), Carol Zuckert; Debbie Smolen (volunteer), Betty Light, Leah Casey, Doris Wochley; MaryJane Gibson (volunteer); Lois Waldman, Les Waldman, Mort Edberg, Elaine McLain

Elaine McLain, a Handmaker resident for two and a half years, is delighted Handmaker recently created an Out & About program for residents, a series of trips to cultural sites similar to Handmaker’s popular Adventure Bus program, which is for people experiencing the early stages of memory loss.

“It’s wonderful here, we have a lot of activities, but it doesn’t supplant our previous life where we could get in the car and drive around and see what we wanted, when we wanted,” says McLain, an effervescent 74-year-old who barely seems to need the walker she uses to speed around the Handmaker campus.

“An opportunity like this, this really spoke to me,” she says.

Out & About offers trips every other Tuesday for independent and assisted living residents at Handmaker, explains Angela Salmon, who coordinates both the Out & About and Adventure Bus programs. Out & About destinations have included the Center for Creative Photography, the International Wildlife Museum and the Pima Air and Space Museum. The trips cost residents $5, no matter what the destination is.

Over the last seven years, says Salmon, “a lot of residents came to me and said, ‘I want to do Adventure Bus.’ I would tell them Adventure Bus is an outreach program, so it wasn’t for Handmaker residents — residents have a huge activities calendar, every day of the week.”

“But with enough people wanting to do something similar to Adventure Bus,” Salmon was happy to oblige.

Out & About trips typically last about two hours, shorter than the five-hour Adventure Bus outings, with the choices of destinations taking into account mobility issues, as many residents use wheelchairs or walkers. Some residents in assisted living also have memory issues. Two volunteers specifically trained for Out & About help out on the trips, along with Salmon and the bus driver, Ramon Cruz.

On alternating Tuesdays, Salmon presents an Around the World program for residents, again mimicking the Adventure Bus program. “We talk about the history and the culture” of places around the world, “and celebrate the traditions, the art and the music of the place we’re studying. And then inspired by that destination, we do a craft project,” says Salmon. This week’s program focused on Hawaii, while Vietnam was the theme for another recent program.

As soon as the Out & About flyer was distributed, McLain says, she signed up for 10 of the first 18 trips.

“Angela is such a dynamo, and she has this incredible memory,” says McLain, recalling a trip to the Flandrau Planetarium Salmon had arranged soon after she moved into Handmaker, before the new program started. Salmon also knew where to find the building’s mineral museum, a bonus that greatly added to McLain’s enjoyment of the trip.

The planetarium is on the Out & About schedule for August. Other trips coming up this summer include the Museum of the Horse Soldier and the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona.

One of the first Out & About trips was to the Tucson Botanical Gardens, which McLain, an avid gardener, loved so much, she became a member. She had plans to attend a paint and origami workshop at the gardens this week.

As for the Around the World program, “it’s like taking a cultural anthropology class,” she says.

An artist herself, McLain was particularly impressed with Salmon’s art project inspired by the country of Brazil. “They export more coffee beans and coffee products than any other country in the world,” she says, so Salmon provided a strong solution of coffee for residents to use as paint. Those who did not care to paint could make dry arrangements using paper, glue and coffee beans, and some combined both media.

“She thinks synergistically,” says McLain. “She totally gives you the personality of the country, the people, the background. And then she hands out a full 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of typed information on that country.”

Salmon’s thoughtfulness also shows in the care she takes of the residents, says McLain, who notes that she always provides water and snacks on Out & About trips, bringing sweets for those who enjoy them, and savory snacks for those like McLain who are diabetic.

For Salmon, one of the joys of these programs is that “it keeps participant’s minds going.”

Even if Out & About and Adventure Bus participants aren’t taking part in discussions, she says, “they’re listening. And I love that. I love that they’re mentally getting stimulated, they’re physically active and stimulated, and I really do believe — and I’ve said this since the beginning of Adventure Bus — the socialization, the discussions, the making and creating, and the getting out and moving, that really does slow cognitive decline and physical decline.

“So I’m really grateful Handmaker has Out & About and Around the World for the residents, and that we have offered Adventure Bus, in our eighth year now. I think it helps a lot of people,” says Salmon.

For more on Handmaker’s trip programs, contact Salmon at 547-6007 or asalmon@handmaker.org. To read more on the Adventure Bus, see www.azjewishpost.com/2016/on-adventure-bus-memory-takes-back-seat-to-experience. See more photos at www.facebook.com/pg/HandmakerTucson/photos.