The Senior Elder Group at the Immigrants Assistance Center is a tightknit group who socialize together regularly at the IAC building on Crapo Street in New Bedford.
They play cards or Bingo, read, laugh, share and enjoy various crafts together. What affects one of the group, often affects them all.
That was the case this fall when the approximately 30 women, most of them Portuguese speakers, found themselves struggling to make sense of the world they were seeing through their television screens.
There were fires and floods, earthquakes, war and sickness. It began to have an effect on them.
“One said there is so much out there. We all have our pains from our age, pains from the friends that we are losing now around the holidays who have passed away, (and) family members who are sick, but the most important thing is what’s going on out there in the world,” said Maria Pereira, a licensed social worker who was brought in to help the group. “We are just traumatized.”
“Everybody was nodding, ‘Yes it’s the same thing with us,’ almost like a collective trauma that they were feeling,” said Pereira.
When the holidays came around, they felt even worse,” said Maria Tomasia, who runs the elder group. “I think they felt really helpless that there’s nothing they can do.”
At the request of IAC president Helena DaSilva-Hughes, Pereira was called in to help. She had worked with the women in the past, using creative projects to help relieve the feeling of helplessness.
She reminded the group that, despite the negative energy they were seeing and absorbing, they could tap into their own positive energy and make a difference through prayer or in other ways.
“I said, ‘If we put down what we feel worried about, we can really see what it is and then we can focus on how we can change it,” said Pereira, suggesting the women work together to make something positive.
“They said, ‘We would love to do something like that,” Pereira recalled.
That led to the creation of a series of art panels each one linked to a prayer for the world.
The women turned to skills they excel at, using cloth and embroidery to create positive messages. Words like elders, the sick, animals, and peace were emboridered following an intitial panel that reads “We pray for.”
One panel reads, “Everyday, we hear the news and we are traumatized. So we pray! Pray with us.”
Pereira said the activity helped empower the women.
“I could see the transformation in their affect, how they were feeling empowered…They were doing something to change all of the things they saw on TV.”
Pereira said the women connected with each other even more, through prayer and through the panels they made. Two women made all of the panels which the others embroidered with positive messages. In some, cases, the activity led to other ways of reaching out to others in need, like visiting people in a nursing home and calling those they knew who were not doing well.
The Elder Group is now looking to share the panels with others with an initial stop being worked out with a city library branch, Pereira said.
“They were feeling good about doing something for somebody else,” she said. Now, “they’d like other people to be able to reflect on how much social media and how much the world is affecting us.”