COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - St. Joseph County Commission on Aging Board of Directors member Sarah Apwisch shows off some of the art donated so far as part of the COA’s Art Beautification Project, an effort started by Apwisch to display artwork and photography in the agency’s Rivers Enrichment Center in Three Rivers.

Bringing art to seniors

COA board member hopes to liven up Three Rivers’ senior center with artwork project

THREE RIVERS — Sarah Apwisch is a self-proclaimed huge fan of art.

One of the newest members of the St. Joseph County Commission on Aging’s Board of Directors, Apwisch said she was impressed with how the new Rivers Enrichment Center in Three Rivers, formerly the Three Rivers Inn, was renovated to be the new senior center. However, she said there was one thing that was missing from the space: artwork.

“When I was in there, I thought, 'I have artwork that I love but I've outgrown it,' and thought it'd be great to bring it to the Enrichment Center and have others be able to enjoy it, since I was no longer enjoying it,” Apwisch said. “I thought, well, other people might feel the same way.”

That thought was the start of a campaign, dubbed the COA Art Beautification Project, to collect artwork and photography to display in the senior center. So far, through several donations, assistance from the COA and outreach via Facebook, Apwisch has collected 23 pieces, with a goal for around 66 pieces to hang up in frequented areas in the center by Thanksgiving, including the main entrance, resident entrance, community room, café and fitness center.

Apwisch said she is collecting any medium for the project, but is primarily looking for wall hangings, including paintings and photography. She said she’s hoping to theme the artwork for the St. Joseph County area, including paintings and pictures of the county, Three Rivers, Sturgis and local rivers.

“If there's photos or paintings of the area, I think that'd be nice to pull it into the community,” Apwisch said.

Along with getting donated paintings, Apwisch said she hopes to have COA members contribute to the project through painting classes offered for seniors, reaching out to local schools to see if there’s any children’s art that could be hung up in a sort of rotating exhibit, and potentially having a mural painted on one of the walls.

“My sister’s an artist by trade, and she said she’d be willing to donate some time to paint a mural on one of the brick walls,” Apwisch said.

COA Executive Director Pam Riley said she loved the concept when Apwisch first brought it up to her, and said it was great for a new board member to take the initiative on such a project.

“I am super excited Sarah has taken on this project and came up with it. I think it's going to bring a lot of joy not only to the residents and staff, but to the members coming in,” Riley said. “It's been less than a year and a half, and it hasn't been a focus to hang things on the walls yet, and so for her to see that need has been wonderful.”

Riley said having the artwork in the center would be an educational experience for seniors, with Apwsich saying it will help spur engagement with seniors.

“They would engage with each other, engage with the space, and I think it could inspire them too. If we could get a variety of different styles of art, they might see something they've never seen before, and that'd be awesome,” Apwisch said.

COA Marketing and Life Enrichment Manager Ruth Mancina agreed that there could be more socialization among seniors, harking back to the days when the COA was in the Three Rivers Community Center.

“I remember that it was something the members specifically would stop and talk about. It was another way for them to socialize. I remember them specifically, whatever it was we were hanging up, they would talk about which one they like the best, or just go around and enjoy it,” Mancina said. “It's part of the whole experience we want them to have when they come to our enrichment centers. That's why they're called enrichment centers. It's everything, not just exercise, it's more of that feeling you get when you come in, and art is a big part of that.”

Those who want to donate to the project, either with artwork or monetary donations for paint supplies for the seniors’ art classes, the mural or frames for the artwork, are asked to contact Apwisch at (269) 535-6695. Apwisch asked that no art donations be taken directly to the COA, rather contacting her first so she can pick up the artwork, keeping in mind they will also be looking to seniors and local students to fill the space as well.

Overall, Apwisch hopes the project will be successful in transforming the center’s space.

“To me, artwork can transform a house into a home, and I want to bring color and warmth and energy to the Rivers Enrichment Center and brighten the lives of seniors in the community,” Apwisch said.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or

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