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A Brief History of OMA in Virginia and Art for the Journey's Training and Expansion:

Since 2015, Art for the Journey has facilitated OMA in Richmond, Virginia. This amazing person-centered, intergenerational abstract art program was founded by Dr. Elizabeth Lokon at the Scripps Gerontology Center - Miami University - Ohio.

Since 2017 Art for the Journey has been accredited by Scripps as a training center to train and certify OMA Facilitators.

Since 2020, Art for the Journey has partnered with LeadingAge Virginia to train and certify hundreds of nursing home staff across the Commonwealth and beyond. It is this experience, on witnessing the profound joy, the hunger for social engagement, and the positive results of the OMA program that opened the door for Art for the Journey to create a new art-making model, based on the essential elements of OMA, will bring the same joy and experience of well-being to all people, across age and ANY disability or barrier. We call this new program ELLA (Engaging Life and Love through Art), matching volunteers one to one for each participant.

During the COVID19 post-pandemic timeframe, a great deal of evidence and reporting emerged from notable sources and health professionals citing a rise in "LONELINESS," and its impact on health outcomes. A report from U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, speaks of an "epidemic" of loneliness and social isolation as a true world health concern. In 2020 he wroteE "The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World." In this book he helps define the difference between loneliness and solitude (which is something we sometimes seek). His description helps us understand how one is good in many cases and the other is a deficit. “Solitude is a state of peaceful aloneness, where we reflect, re-ground, and re-center, furthermore, this supports our authenticity, and helps our ability to approach others.”
In contrast: He describes “Loneliness” as the missing social-connection you would like to have.

The lack of social connection poses a significant risk for individual health and longevity.

In another recently published book, Author, Dr. Jeremy Nobel says, ”Just like thirst is a signal you need hydration, loneliness is a signal that you need human connection.” His book is titled: "Project UnLonely - Healing our Crisis of Dis-connection."
He is also founder of the Foundation for Art and Healing, and he believes in a benefit to “creating distance from loneliness” by taking steps. The first step he recommends is to be authentically curious, to explore (which opens channels), and further, that the creative arts are very helpful. He describes that a made object is something that initiates conversation, even looking at art can do this.

Other reports such as this report from the , World Health Organization , indicate health impact of social isolation from both mental and physical health with statistics such as:

The lack of social connection poses a significant risk for individual health and longevity. The report explains that loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for premature death by 26% and 29% respectively.

More broadly, lacking social connection can increase the risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

Poor or insufficient social connection is associated with:

29% increased risk of heart disease
32% increased risk of stroke.
Increased risk for anxiety, depression, and dementia.
May increase susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illness.

In 2024, the White House issued this report which has inspired Art for the Journey to steer programming forward to foster togetherness, positive mental and physical health through Art and Togetherness programming! We have been robust trainers, and created impact in over 10,000 lives thus far, and hope to impact as many going forward as possible by adapting OMA to reach other populations in need.
We will continue to be nationwide trainers for OMA as we develop the expansion program designed to positively impact more lives through art and community engagement, using the pillars of the OMA program such as person-centered, intergenerational and a failure free abstract art making approach. The name of the adaptation and expansion program is: "Engaging in Life and Love through Art" (ELLA).

UPDATE on the ELLA program:

Senator Tim Kaine and Senator Mark Warner, have endorsed the plan for Art for the Journey's ELLA program funding as a part of a Federal Earmark for 2025. The request is now in the hands of the Federal Ways and Means Committee for review. Art for the Journey is building funding opportunities as we refine the program. As a part of the refinement and to ensure a best-practice approach, Art for the Journey has engaged a review steering committee made up of health care professionals, including the Scripps Gerontology Center, Miami University-OH team and OMA Founder Dr. Elizabeth Lokon.

Art for the Journey Steering committee
“Engaging Life and Love with Art” (ELLA)
July 2024

• Carol Dodson, N.P. – OMA Volunteer
• William J. Frable, M.D. – Art for the Journey Board member; Retired Medical Professional specializing in Cytopathology, certified in OMA to vet OMA as a Best-Practice program to be delivered by AFJ, and to advocate for Art for the Journey’s OMA Facilitator training center.
• Tracy Gendron, Phd
– First VCU academic contact for Art for the Journey; Chair VCU Gerontology, Author – “Ageism Unmasked;” Executive Director Virginia Center on Aging including oversight of Life-long Learning Center (LLI); Researcher, Professor
• Mark Hierholzer, M.S. – Founder – Art for the Journey; Retired mental health specialist, former CEO – Childsavers, and former CEO St. John’s Hospital; Artist and Art Instructor and certified OMA Facilitator/Trainer.
• Kathy Guisewhite, - Certified OMA Facilitator; Coordinator of the Caregivers Community Network (CCN) at JMU. At VPAS; Caregiver Outreach Coordinator and the Coordinator of the Intergenerational Respite Care Program.
• Vanessa Latorre, M.S. – Social Work – Certified OMA Facilitator - VCU Instructor and Liasson, School of Social Work – Skilled Mental Health Therapist, and Visual Artist
• Elizabeth Lokon, Phd
– Founder – “Opening Minds through Art” (OMA), Retired Professor of Gerontology Scripps Gerontology Center Miami University, OH; Fulbright Scholar; Visual Artist
• Nan Pascal, Community Relations Coordinator - Saint Mary’s Woods Retirement Community - Art for the Journey Board Member; Certified OMA Facilitator; Partner for first AFJ OMA program in Virginia; Initiated local host site for OMA Practicums for OMA certifications.
• Steve Sawyer, PhD., Retired professor VCU School of Medicine-Certified OMA Facilitator
• Scripps Gerontology Center Miami University team- Amy Eliot, PhD
- Interim Director; Meghan Young, Associate Director; Krysta Peterson, Assistant Director
• Dianne Simons, Phd, OTR/L, FAOTA
– Lead OMA Certification Trainer, Art for the Journey; Retired VCU Professor Occupational Therapy; Liasson for VCU OT Capstone Researchers – eight VCU OT students received Doctorate in partnership with Art for the Journey to date.
• Amy Strite, Executive Director-
– Senior Connections and the Capitol Area on Aging
• David Trinkle, M.D.-
• – Geriatric Psychiatry; Associate Dean, Community Engagement VT Carillion School of Medicine; Commissioner, Virginia Commission for the Arts
o Dr. Trinkle will join committee summer 2024.
• Jay White, EdD, MSG, CDP-
–Certified Dementia Practitioner. Through gerontological research, Dr. White focused on the effects of loneliness, social isolation, as it affects overall health and well-being. Participant in Art for the Journey Gala Art Exhibition fundraising event!
• Jodi Winship, PhD, OTR/L Founder and Executive Director, Aging and Engaging-non-profit
-Certified OMA Facilitator

Guest members:
University of Richmond MBA Researchers:
Kellan Latif and Gennifer Barker