Connecting During COVID-19: A Conversation with Kathy Hawkins

“So many people think creative care is something they’re not capable of. To me, personally, it’s a one-on-one exchange of ideas and of mutual caring and regard for another person.T oo often people feel like they can’t be creative in their caring – that they have to be a Van Gogh or a Matisse, [but] it’s just about being yourself in relation to another.”

I took a breath and smiled. I sat down with Mrs. Kathy Hawkins, Engagement Coordinator for TimeSlips, the morning of March 24th to hear her story: how she had come across TimeSlips, her previous and current roles, and how all of her work intersected with Dementia Inclusive Durham, the organization I have been serving as a program support assistant with through GradEngage. The following is an overview of and reflection on my meeting with her. I hope that I can do her wonderfully storytelling justice.

In our conversation, she told me about being a Music Therapy intern, coming across TimeSlips through a dementia conference she attended. At the time, the TimeSlips method was not even 5 years old, consisting of primarily a 2.5 to 3-hour class during which participants discussed creativity and what animals or kitchen utensils they would be. Kathy’s role was to see how TimeSlips could be applied to programming in the dementia services units. She spearheaded the coordination of the program for her own site.

“I did not realize the effect that TimeSlips could have, not just on the residents, but also administrators and family members,” she stated. And that when participants (clients and volunteers alike) attend a TimeSlips session, they often feel like that’s when they are making a difference. Her current role as engagement coordinator is “what [she] has been doing for the past 18 years – bringing people together, shaping their training experiences, and working with the community.”

Prior to becoming engagement coordinator, Kathy worked independently to develop TimeSlips programs and classes with oversight from TimeSlips:  teaching TimeSlips at community colleges, conferences, and for organizations. She served as interim program coordinator, conducting much of the same tasks she does now: plugging people in to training,, linking existing certified facilitators and communities of care, and as she says “being the cheerleader for TimeSlips.”

Kathy described several similarities in her previous work with youth and current role with elders living with dementia: “Children or young adults…do not get their fair due in society. Society says, ‘You are your future, you have all the innovation and the ideas, but you haven’t reached ‘it’ yet. You couldn’t really make a decision about that because your brain isn’t fully formed.’ We say the same to people living with dementia – ‘You’re not really “with it”’, or ‘Your brain isn’t what it used to be.’ There’s ageism on both sides that they can’t quite understand or know what you’re talking about, which is untrue.”

We ended our Zoom with a brief discussion about TimeSlips and Dementia Inclusive Durham (DID), and the impact of COVID-19 on training and creative engagement sessions. Kathy told me that she was brought in to work with DID last Spring to moderate the online creative engagement sessions on Thursday mornings. She started interacting with artists, including my professor, Dr. Sarah Wilbur, and realized “This is a group I identify with…” She feels very strongly associated and aligned with the folks at Durham.

For how COVID shaped DID and TimeSlips and what she does as engagement coordinator,  she feels that “ways into care communities: postcards or letters, phone calls, physically distanced sessions, Zoom or even text messages…right now we need to prioritize which one is standard based on which community has access to which resources. COVID-19 continues to shape and ebb and flow the programming and plans of TimeSlips and DID.” For example, Kathy notes, “Just as we started to get really used to the virtual world, there are some places opening up and reducing all restrictions. Others are still restricting everything, including mail…it’s just this increased flexibility to the differences that people are needing…it teaches us to be more responsive and to be in-the-moment.”

She ends with a quote that I will never forget:

“We’re trying to resuscitate the connective tissue of people’s daily lives in how they create together, knowing that they can.  My job, my joy is figuring out how to link people together who may not know others out there exist. If there’s a similar goal in mind, if you fuel each other, it  grows that connective tissue so beautifully.”

For readers looking to become involved with or learn more about DID, TimeSlips or Kathy’s work, her email is kathy@timeslips.org.