A Tree Grows in Evanston

Just a few months ago, the CJE Adult Day Services (ADS) building in Evanston could only be described as a plain brick façade with few distinctive qualities. But not anymore!

Now, ADS Director Melissa Gelfand is proud to refer to the ADS building as a “landmark” in the community because it is embellished with a newly-installed mosaic tree mural.

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The mural, entitled “Together We Grow,” is the result of a remarkable undertaking that involved staff, clients, volunteers, Board members and other community members. The final art piece, traversing the south and east exterior walls of the ADS building, is breathtaking in its elegance, simplicity and meaning. It consists of a painted tree trunk and branches adorned with gleaming, colorful and unique mosaic leaves. We should note that the leaves are in the shape of the pomegranate seeds that are part of the CJE SeniorLife logo and representative of CJE’s intrinsic commitment to Jewish values.

Walking in the door at CJE Adult Day Services in Evanston, people are immediately struck by the preponderance of colorful, moving works of art on the surfaces, walls—even the doors. For decades, participants in CJE’s extensive Creative Arts Therapy (CAT) program have produced many of these incredible works of art. In fact, CJE’s program has long been recognized as a model throughout the country for its utilization of creative arts as a way to help individuals tap into their inner selves and convey their feelings through art. This process can help to maintain a sense of wholeness and preserve self-dignity for those with memory loss or increasing frailty. Participants often blossom, develop relationships and reveal their hidden talents.

We all were told to look into our minds and pick the colors that mean something to us. I did an outline of black and grey, and inside I did all different colors of green. I’m from the farm, and green is everywhere … green is the color of life … and CJE means life.
        —Karen, ADS participant and mosaic maker

It was an enormous project, with 85 individual seeds placed on the tree. Each one shows the creative hand of its maker(s), and all are unique, just like those who produced them. There was 100% participation by every ADS client, some who’d never taken part in a creative arts project before. That was gratifying for Leslie Garb, the Art Therapist who managed the endeavor. She said that many people whom she’d never been able to get near the Art Room were interested in helping out with the mural. According to Garb, “Mosaic is a very forgiving format, and you do not need precision or a great deal of manual dexterity to place the small tiles.” She marveled about a totally non-verbal client whose Alzheimer’s had progressed considerably. Ms. Garb had her place some tiles onto the adhesive base on which the mosaic artists worked. To Garb’s surprise, instead of placing just a few tiles, this person completed an entire mosaic seed.

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Many participants said that what was so special about the mural project was the number of people who contributed to it. Fred, a long-time participant in CAT, said he enjoyed the fact that everyone was taking part, “It was like all hands were on deck!”

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Some people thought it was too ambitious of an undertaking to gather a group of people from all different walks of life, with all different abilities to come together and produce a community art project. But perseverance paid off for the project staff. As the project started to germinate, the ADS staff knew that they would need funding to cover some of the expenses, like the purchasing of art supplies. Almost immediately, the Evanston Community Foundation responded to a grant proposal from CJE and from there, the project gained momentum.

The first step was to develop a rigorous plan of action that incorporated the logistics of creating a large-scale piece with so many participants. The original plan was to paint a mural on the wooden surface of the south wall of the ADS building that faced Howard Street, but experts decided that harsh Chicago winters would quickly take a toll on the painted surface. As other options surfaced, like the creation of a mosaic art piece, staff sought advice from independent art experts. The Chicago Public Art Group agreed that a mosaic was the perfect solution because people working comfortably in the art studio could create the leaves, which could then be transferred to the outside of the building.

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The dedication and celebration of the mosaic took place on June 28 at ADS. It was a joyful celebration of community, partnership and restoration. Marybeth Schroeder, Vice President for Programs at the EvanstonCommunity Foundation (ECF) was present and remarked that the Foundation’s mission is to make the community a better place and to make it more vibrant, more just and more inclusive. And then she added, “What could be more vibrant, just and inclusive than this mural? This was a perfect grant opportunity for the ECF and we are so glad we funded it.”

The words from the plaque that adjoins the mural (see yellow panel, facing page) sum up the holistic meaning of this project and its lasting impact on all the people who contributed to making CJE’s Adult Day Services building a stunning “landmark” in the community.

TreeMural3.jpgWe invite you to take a drive by CJE’s Adult Day Services at 1015 Howard Street in Evanston and see “Together We Grow.” For more information and a tour of ADS which offers many other stimulating and active programs for older adults who need structure in their day and a secure, caring environment, call 847.492.1400.

Together We Grow
This tree adorned with unique pomegranate seeds created by clients, staff and volunteers of all ages represents the vibrant community of CJE’s Adult Day Services. With special gratitude, we want to acknowledge the Evanston Community Foundation for its enduring commitment to our mission.