Paint-A-Memory program provides relief for families affected by Alzheimer's

SOBO Gallery and Art Center in Winter Garden bridges art and community

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Winter Garden Art Association Chairperson Elizabeth McKinney is this week's Getting Results Award winner.

McKinney has overseen the operations of the SOBO Gallery and Art Center since its opening five years ago. 

"I do everything from run the board meetings and strategic planning to making sure there's toilet paper in the bathrooms," McKinney laughs.

McKinney says the idea, from the beginning, was always to bridge art and community. The studio is doing that with programs like Paint-A-Memory, designed to engage those affected by Alzheimer's disease in a social art activity and to give their caregivers a much needed respite. 

"When you're the caregiver for someone suffering with this disease it's draining on a good day," McKinney says.

Once a month the studio opens its doors to about a dozen seniors. For two hours they're able to flex their creativity with color and composition. 

"We didn't see anyone else doing it," McKinney says. "This is a little different, it brings them out of where they are. It's like a field trip and we just felt like that was something that was needed and we could do it so why don't we do it?" 

McKinney says the community response was felt in the very first class. "The very first class we did we had a lady that went out to her car and she sat and cried. She just cried. She said it was the first break she had in a long time and she was just exhausted. She needed a break to regroup. That's why it was formed." 

Gabriella West is the instructor. She starts everyone off with an outline of the day's image. The students take it from there. 

"You can tell right away those that have been artistic in the past. Their talents start coming out," McKinney says. 

Today everyone is putting their personal touch on the image of a flower and vase. "Do you want some pink now?" West asks, as she looks in on someone's work. "It's quite an emotional journey for them," West says. "I think having a place that they come to and feel safe and they can open up in other ways is really good." 

Both West and McKinney have had people close to them suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

"I had grandparents who suffered," West says, explaining her motivation. "I was one of the caregivers, so that's where my background stems from."  

For two hours the class is quiet, focused and peaceful. "They're happy. They're happy," McKinney says looking on. "For a little while they're perfectly happy and they're accomplishing something. I'm honored to be a part of it."

West nominated McKinney for the Getting Results Award. "She's always here working behind the scenes. I've seen her work tirelessly for many years and she's really the heart of the organization. In my mind she's brought so much to it," West continues. "I think she deserves a massive thank you for that." 

The SOBO Gallery and Winter Garden Art Association is located at 127 South Boyd St. in Winter Garden. The gallery features monthly exhibitions from local artists, summer camps, multiage level education programs, social events and art competitions. 

Other community programs include Art Encounters, an outreach program bringing art to the children living at Edgewood Children's Ranch.    

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