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She is typically quiet and reserved, but that morning she beamed ear to ear to see his face at her apartment door. After time apart, he at last returned to invite her to make art with him in the "Opening Minds through Art" (OMA) program, just like old times. She didn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.

Their camaraderie bridges an age gap of two generations; Jonathan is a recent college graduate and Mrs. T is a resident at St. Mary’s Woods Retirement Community. At OMA, the age barrier disappears. Instead there is conversation and joking, as he supports her in the creative process. And though she's too modest to admit it, she proves her keen eye for composition and color in each abstract piece she creates.

"Mrs. T is truly an inspiration," Jonathan said of his older friend. "I have enjoyed nudging her out of her comfort zones to create incredible works of art. Every second spent with her and the OMA program in general has been nothing short of amazing." Originally, he volunteered through VCU’s ASPiRE living-learning program, but after graduating he contacted Art for the Journey and asked to come back to volunteer on his own. Like many of the art partners, he missed it too much to stay away.

Every second spent with [Mrs. T] and the OMA program in general has been nothing short of amazing.

We often refer to OMA as a “big party” at St. Mary’s Woods because of the energy the partners bring. Nan Pascal, Community Engagement Coordinator and our hostess at the retirement community, said that it’s the energy and attentiveness of the volunteers that makes the impact. She sees a transformation in the residents when they participate in OMA, lasting long past the closing song every Friday. The volunteers make them feel seen and celebrated. This is a priceless gift that only multiplies when 17 pairs fill the room each week.

We were sad to cancel the remaining art sessions for this spring due to the coronavirus, yet grateful that our friends at St. Mary's Woods are safe. Besides, after just five sessions, we have enough quality art to fill a gallery! This artwork, created by the most vulnerable among us, reminds us of the irrepressible beauty of the human spirit, and the enduring nature of friendship.

OMA will return to local facilities when the crisis subsides. Save your spot as an art partner through the volunteer sign-up form below!