Grantee Spotlight: West Falls Center for the Arts Memory Café

West Falls Center for the Arts

This spotlight first appeared in the Health Foundation’s 2020 Annual Report.

Family caregivers typically face unique challenges. The responsibilities of that role bring physical, emotional, mental and financial stress, as well as the risk of social isolation to both caregivers and their loved ones. COVID-19 has only exacerbated these issues. The Health Foundation is proud of our ongoing partnership with the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to support programs and initiatives that improve the lives of family caregivers and the people they care for. In 2020, we supported a number of these initiatives, including many that recognize how family caregiver needs have changed as a result of the pandemic

West Falls Center for the Arts provides access to the arts topeople of all ages in a rural community in western New York. Their Memory Café program was initially launched as a bi-monthly respite opportunity for family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Memory Café is a chance for family caregivers to spend time with their loved ones in a relaxing setting, meet other caregivers and enjoy activities like card games and a catered lunch. When staff members added musical performances by the Center’s artists to the program, they knew they had developed something special.

“Very quickly, we could see the concerts meant a lot to the people who attended. One woman said she saw her husband smile for the first time in a very long time when listening to the live music,” says Carolyn Panzica, Executive Director of the Center. “One of our attendees typically uses a wheelchair because he has trouble walking. When he hears the live music, he stands up and dances with his wife.”

Carolyn and her team took part in the Communities Care Respite Pilot Program, an effort to fund innovative, collaborative projects that aim to increase respite opportunities for family caregivers of older adults in rural western New York and beyond. Communities Care is funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and the Health Foundation and managed by The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) with support from Teresa Lawrence of International Deliverables.

“Taking part in Communities Care helped us continue developing and enhancing Memory Café,” says Carolyn. “We really benefited from the opportunity to connect with experts, both locally and at the national level.” Participation in this pilot program helped Memory Café expand their existing model for older adults living with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia and their caregivers, while also developing a new model designed for isolated older adults that will pair them up with volunteer caregivers in the community.

COVID-19 forced the West Falls Center for the Arts team to develop safe, innovative ways of presenting Memory Café. Their methods have included bringing personalized “porch concerts” to the homes of people they serve, holding safe, socially distant concerts with limited capacity and streaming concerts live on Facebook. During the 2020 holiday season, a group of Canisius High School students, including Carolyn’s son, organized a caroling outing to bring Christmas cheer—and cookies—to family caregivers at home.

“We are building a community through this program,” says Carolyn. “Our hope is that we’ll continue to grow and will be able to reach other types of caregivers and isolated older adults in the future.”