“Close your eyes and imagine a tree,” Simona Granfone tells a group of senior women who are gathered for an art workshop. She invites them to think about how tall the tree is, what animals live in it, and how it might feel to climb it. After a few minutes, she asks them to draw a picture of their tree.
Simona is the lead programs assistant at Youville Place, an assisted living facility in Lexington,Massachusetts. She provides opportunities for residents to socialize, connect, and make art. Her programs are not only fun, but also serve a deeper purpose.
Drawing a tree may seem like a small thing. But the women in Simona’s art workshop are exercising their memories, challenging themselves, and bonding with one another. She points out that elders benefit from keeping active, trying new things and interacting with others. Her training at Lesley enables her to design a range of art-related programs to enrich the lives of residents.
Simona always knew she wanted a career helping people. When a high school teacher told her about the field of art therapy, she was intrigued. “As I child, I loved art. I struggled with anxiety, and art was a way for me to cope,” she says. “Art therapy combines the two things I’m passionate about: psychology and art.”
Finding Her Niche
Simona completed bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a specialization in Art Therapy at Lesley. She studied psychology, human development, and the visual arts. And while art therapy can be used with any age group, Simona felt a special connection to older people.
“This is my niche,” she says, “I love working with the elderly.” She considers it a privilege to hear their life stories and help them determine their legacy.
Working as lead programs assistant gives Simona plenty of opportunities to try new things with the residents. “You have to be creative to work with this population. We’re looking to help them feel successful, so they can learn something new.” She’s led groups in art expression, meditation, and poetry. “We’re constantly finding fun themes, like our Salvador Dali-inspired social hour.”
Internships Paved the Way
Her experiences at Lesley, and particularly her two internships, fostered her creative abilities. “Lesley is fantastic about getting you into internships really early—sophomore year in my program—and each one built off the other, so you feel strong and confident and capable in what you’re doing.” In her sophomore year, Simona worked with disabled individuals at Gateway Arts, and in her junior year she worked with low-income families at Art Relief.
Opportunities for Growth
Simona has found opportunities to expand her professional skills and connections. She traveled to Ohio to attend a Music and Memory workshop, which provided cutting-edge training in working with Alzheimer’s patients. She’s also exploring Opening Minds Through Art, which helps people with dementia communicate through art. “I’m so excited to see the results and how powerful it will be to enhance the lives of our residents,” she says.