John's Ministry for Senior Adults

Charlotte Observer Article from Sunday January 11, 2009

In song, they remember the way they were

Entertainers are a common sight at Carriage Club Charlotte, but none draws as big a crowd as John Leon Lewis. 

Residents who rarely participate in the senior living community’s other activities make sure they find front-row seats when Lewis’ name is on the board.

Some who typically hesitate to leave their rooms emerge when he arrives.
And some who never speak a word sing along with him.

“The residents love him. He just mesmerizes them with his voice,” said Jaynie Segal, Carriage Club’s life enrichment director. “Their memories are there, but they’re locked away, and he’s able to bring them out.”

Lewis, 58, said he began performing at senior care facilities six years ago, after his mother died. In the final months of his mother’s life, Lewis noticed his mother often felt disconnected from family members and her past.

After she was gone, he decided to embark on a mission to bring joy to elderly residents and help them reminisce about earlier times.

So every month he travels to senior living facilities around Mecklenburg County, performing songs from 1950s and earlier.

“Many people, as they get older, they lose relationships along the way,” said Lewis, a Ballantyne-area resident who is also a minister at Harrison United Methodist Church in Pineville. “But music goes to the core of those relationships, and when someone comes in singing songs from their era, (older people) start to remember.”

Although Lewis charges a fee for his services, several facility directors said he goes out of his way to make sure his rates are affordable. He charges less than half of what other entertainers charge, they said.
What their communities get in return is a performer whose baritone voice and uniquely soothing demeanor coaxes residents to sing and dance in a way the staff rarely sees.

Rebecca Lynch, “engage life” director for Atria MerryWood, said residents there especially enjoy the Broadway show tunes and big-band songs Lewis performs.

“You can see the shift in their eyes, and you can tell they’re going back to a time when were with their husband, loved one, or wife,” Lynch said. “You can definitely tell he enjoys being with them.”
Lewis said he hopes his work will inspire other people to take steps to reach out to elderly residents.

“There is a whole generation of people that I fear is being forgotten,” he said. “People are looking for a glimmer of hope that keeps them moving.”
Carriage Club resident Patsy Hague said she appreciates the work Lewis is doing.

“He is the most wonderful entertainer we ever have,” she said.

Charlotte Observer Article
By Nichole Monroe Bell
nbell@charlotteobserver.com

 

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