Sketching with Seniors connects generations through art

Seniors and youth display art created during a recent Sketching with Seniors session (Photo supplied by Sketching with Seniors).

All it took was art supplies. 

An effort to help seniors to combat isolation during the pandemic has evolved into an organization that has helped forge a lasting bond between generations. 

When Campbell High School student Akanksha Manna witnessed her grandfather’s mental health struggles during the pandemic, she decided that art could be a great way to brighten his and other seniors’ lives during the long days of isolation.  

She partnered with Pace High School student and artist Claire Jiang, and the non-profit group Sketching with Seniors was created, a youth-driven volunteer group that visits senior living centers and holds free arts enrichment classes.  

“Our unique approach to using art as a way to reduce isolation and make connections is the fun and self-reflective part of it,” the Sketching with Seniors website said. “Volunteers and elders both benefit through this initiative as volunteers can learn skills on how to operate certain jobs in our organization, teach art and spread their passion for art while elders can make meaningful connections with younger people, interact with other elders and find peace in art while having fun.” 

Jiang said the organization’s humble beginnings have now expanded to partnerships with 25 high school organizations serving about 15 senior living facilities. 

“We started with sketching and then moved to incorporating crafts, watercolor drawings, card-making, guided drawing, and clay art,” Jiang said. “We’ve also started doing crocheting, which is an activity that is very familiar to many of our seniors.” 

Sessions are generally about an hour or more, with the groups visiting facilities either every week or bi-monthly, she said. As the visits increase, so does the comfort level between the two generations. 

“I feel like with the smaller senior centers we are really making a lot of connections,” Jiang said. “They are excited to see us come, and they know our names.” 

She recalled a recent visit with a senior center resident who brought out an album containing copies of cartoons he created, many of which had been published in national newspapers. It evolved into a drawing class wherein he taught the youth how to draw cartoons. 

“There are so many seniors who are super talented, and we are learning from them,” Jiang said.  

The group has also reached out to partner with other like-minded organizations, like Fine Arts for All and the Hope and Dignity Community Center to create events that increase awareness and funding. 

In early January, about 50 Sketching with Seniors volunteers held an event in conjunction with Hope and Dignity, providing food, clothing and art supplies to hundreds of families experiencing homelessness. 

The group, whose executive board consists of high school students, has now expanded to include a parent and teacher advisory board. And since they have been granted 501c-3 status, the students have been able to attain several grants that will help purchase more art supplies and expand their reach.  

Click here to learn more about volunteering or donating to Sketching with Seniors. 

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