In preparing for a Valentine-themed program at a nursing home this week, I knew that I had to keep it simple. The Director of Therapeutic Recreation had told me that among the 20-25 participants, most would have limited manual dexterity and some degree of cognitive impairment. Fortunately though there’d be staff members and aides to assist.

Whenever possible, I like making art or craft projects subservient to a larger experience. For Valentine’s Day, I wanted the residents to connect with the love they’ve enjoyed not just with others, but with pets and animals, places, interests, and prized possessions as well. Each was given 3” square red Post-it Notes I decorated with hearts on which to identify the objects of their affections.

More specific prompts included: Staff members? Close friends? Celebrities? Foods? Hobbies? Colors? Objects? Reading preferences? Countries? Regions? Former homes? Etc., etc.

Throughout the program, we asked participants to share a story behind a name, or to lead us in a favorite song whose lyrics everyone knew (e.g. Red River Valley, You Are My Sunshine, and God Bless America). Other firsts on playlists included La Paloma (The Dove) and Born in the USA. Frank Santra (sic), aka Frankie Boy, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys were awarded hearts in the singer category. Food loves included pizza, hot dogs, root beer, red wine, and hot chokat (sic). Word puzzles, Bingo, and reading mysteries were three of the most popular pastimes. Woonsocket, Rhode Island might be delighted to learn that it received a shout-out in the category of fondly remembered places.

The completed notes were randomly placed on the roll of white sign paper that covered the long table at which everyone worked. One plan was to arrange all the notes in a giant heart shape; a second idea was to fill the empty spaces with other graphics and personal holiday greetings, thus making two murals totaling 4’ x 27’ to be hung in the nursing home’s hallways.

The latter option was a unanimous choice that took things to an entirely new level. Working on a larger canvas gave the assistants free reign to improvise on the Cupid theme — embellishments that brought everything together in one exuberant paean to love. Seeing how their individual efforts culminated in such a spirited work gave the residents great pride and pleasure, and proved once again what a critical role assistants and aides play in successful outcomes.

Days later I learned that once the murals were put on display, they became a big hit for other staff and residents intrigued by its loving affirmations and messages.