Improving community vitality through elder vitality
Kairos Alive! is creating a stronger, healthier community in Bemidji. Their Community Arts and Wellbeing™ Residency engages and revitalizes elders and other residents through participatory performing arts experiences in dance, music, story and body-mind health education.
Kathryn Gonzalez, co-founder of the Bemidji Participatory Arts Collective, first identified the isolation of elders as a detriment to Bemidji’s community vitality. “I believe that loneliness and isolation disrupt the quality of community life,” said Gonzalez. “Working at an assisted living home, I also witnessed how many, especially aging adults, no longer felt they belonged or could meaningfully contribute to the greater fabric of their community.”
Building Connection Through Art
Gonzalez, familiar with Kairos’ programming closer to the Twin Cities, reached out to Maria Genné, founder and director of Kairos Alive!, to bring their talents up north. Investments from Mardag Foundation supported the growth of multi-year programming.
In 2014 and 2015, Kairos Alive! brought their Dancing Heart™ program to senior and adult day centers, hosted intergenerational dance halls for hundreds of Bemidji residents, facilitated their Moving Well™ training for care providers and community members and led programming with the local Boys and Girls Club.
“Our work in Bemidji is a community-based model. When you bring different people of different abilities, different ages and different backgrounds together you start to see how strong a community can become,” said Genné.
Kairos Alive! based their approach not just in community, but also in research. Since 2009, Kairos has partnered with researchers at St. Catherine University and the University of Minnesota. Studies have shown the Dancing Heart™ program improves physical conditioning, mood and social connectedness while helping participants at least maintain, if not improve, general cognition.
Gonzalez claims elder health and community health are inseparable. “I believe health and wellbeing are rooted in recovering a deep sense of connection across differences. Kairos Alive! invites us to explore what it feels like to be in a community that is intergenerational and respectful of differences,” Gonzalez said.
“I find that when we engage elders in the community, it revitalizes the youngest, the eldest and everyone in between,” added Genné. “We learn how to be kinder and maybe a little more patient. When older adults share their legacy, it’s their gift to the community and what we do is provide a space for those gifts to blossom. We’re all healthier as a result.”