"When my grandmother lived in a nursing home, she told me that her friends were from farms or often talked about being outside," says Leia Lowery, director of education at Kennebunkport Conservation Trust in Maine. "That's when I made it my mission to bring the outdoors in."
Lowery says it's taken some time, but now the land trust has set up a program with a local facility. "There are many people who can't get out due to mobility issues or because they are dementia patients. I pick a topic, and then try to hit all the senses. I usually have a slide show, accompanied by a local woman who reads her poetry about the subject. And I try to have one hands-on activity. I bring things in for touch, smell, sometimes taste (one spring I did pollinators and brought in fresh honey). We do one program per season, and hope to grow as interest grows."
Once in the fall Lowery brought in live moss. "They loved to smell and touch it, and many stories of jumping in leaves, walking in woods and loving being outside came out! One winter program included fake snowballs and we had a (gentle) snowball fight in the lobby, with lots of laughter."
Lowery says the program's success has led to a new connection with an organization called "The Center," for active older adults (generally 65 and older). "What is fantastic about this is that they now want to partner and volunteer," says Lowery.
She says the land trust's program is very simplistic, low-cost and low-maintenance. "I'm sure there are more amazing ones out there. But I guess at the end of the day, it's important to just reach out and start something. To create more vibrant communities, we need to reach the whole community. When we do, and they start to interconnect, it is amazing."
Read more about land trusts connecting with their communities in different ways on our website.