Touching Senior Lives Through the Arts
Audrey Alderson (MAT '92) was enjoying retirement. She had spent a number of years in church ministry and planned on spending time relaxing with her husband and taking it easy. But God had other plans for her.
In 2001, Alderson began visiting her aunt in a senior care facility. Although she had lived and worked in her community for over 30 years, Alderson was not aware of the large number of care facilities with elderly persons who spent years of their lives feeling alone and without hope. When Alderson saw this, she began to hear God's voice calling her to minister to this population.
Alderson knew of her own aunt's need for socialization, and began to wonder if music and art could be a solution. She approached musicians with whom she had worked in various churches throughout her ministry. God's calling was confirmed to her when they wholeheartedly admitted that this was an area of ministry in which they, too, had wanted to be involved for a long time.
Shortly after her initial idea, Audrey's Angels was opened with the goal of providing enriching experiences for the elderly through the arts. The organization today serves over 110 senior residential care homes and 11 adult day care centers in the greater Phoenix area. The 75-member artistic staff provides important channels of entertainment and interaction for the adults with whom they work through music and art.
During visits, staff members--or "angels"--give musical performances, lead sing-alongs, and engage seniors in craft or art activities. As a result, residents often become more communicative--expressing themselves with singing, conversation, or a knowing smile. "For the many residents we visit who have dementia, music and art can create a bridge across time and memory," says Alderson. "Our angels build relationships with seniors, adding to the quality of their lives and enhancing their experiences."
John Proffer, activity director at Tempe Adult Day Care, says of the ministry, "Our clients respond to and love musical entertainment. Some of our lower functioning participants sing along with songs of the past, move their bodies to the music, or get up and dance with other clients. Audrey's Angels sends us talented individuals who enjoy what they do... It is truly wonderful for us to see the positive interactions and pure enjoyment our participants receive from the angels."
Audrey's Angels also provides training for each angel. One of the organization's board members, a geriatric psychiatric nurse practitioner, holds a training session each year to help angels relate to patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Sharing more about her ministry, Alderson tells of her experience with one patient. "For three years Annie had been in the group home where my aunt lived. Every time I visited, she showed no response and could not communicate. In fact, when she looked at me I saw fear in her eyes," she recalls. "One day I was auditioning a musician and Annie was seated beside me in a wheelchair. I asked the musician to sing 'The Old Rugged Cross'--and as she sang, Annie began to smile. I said to her, 'I bet you know that song,' and Annie nodded her head. Then I said, 'I bet you know all the words,' and she smiled and nodded her head. I had known Annie for three years, and that was the first response I ever had. She died three weeks later. That was God's special gift to me."
It is these kinds of experiences that give Alderson the determination to build the ministry. They are highly sought after, with a number of facilities on a waiting list for their services. And Alderson is committed to keeping those services affordable. "Our team of auditioned musicians and compassionate volunteers share their talents for significantly less than the standard market fee," she says. Audrey's Angels also volunteers at some facilities that desperately need their services but cannot afford to pay--and Alderson is busy raising funds in order to serve that ever-growing list of homes.
Alderson is grateful for the ways Fuller equipped her for her work. "Everything I learned at Fuller prepared me for this ministry," she says, especially courses in small groups, counseling, and pastoral care. "And having a degree from Fuller Seminary has added credibility to my ministry," she notes.
Alderson looks forward to the future of Audrey's Angels because she knows that, through it all, God will be with her. "God promised me in the beginning that if I would do this at the age of 67, he would walk with me," she says. "He has never failed us."