Malka Fricks (top left) interprets "Happy Talking" from South Pacific while (left to right) Mary Schuck, Shirley Morrison, and therapist Jonathon Reis help out.
Photo by Karen Diefendorf/Woodinville Weekly.
by Karen Diefendorf
When Jonathon Reis was a college student, he never pictured himself working with seniors and stroke victims. But although his dream was, and still is, acting, there are a lot of seniors and disabled people for whom he has made a big difference.
It all began when, as a recreational therapy student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Reis was sent on a mandatory trip to Palm Springs to work with stroke victims. In spite of misgivings about the hot sun and a group of people he wasn't familiar with, he went.
"Within a week, I fell in love with the people I was working with," Reis said. And this led to "Theater and Me," a positive, supportive program that uses acting and recreational therapy to help stroke victims get past their self-consciousness and embarrassment about their communication problems.
"It really got them going," he said. "It also got the senior volunteers going, who were also helping out. They loved it."
When Reis first came to Washington state, he worked at Evergreen Hospital, but soon decided to take a chance and branch out with his popular program. It wasn't long before he came to the Northshore Senior Center, working with the seniors and offering drama, comedy, and musical programs.
Watching Reis work with a group of senior ladies as they interpreted popular show tunes, shows how, in these classes, respect and fondness go both ways. "We love every moment in class and are sorry when it ends," class member Mary Schuck said.
Before she presented her rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Ursula Skinner, fairly new to the class, confessed to being scared to death. "But this helps you get more out of yourself and become a little more assertive," she said.
Although Reis offers constructive advice following each performance, his words are always positive and never demeaning. No one ever feels embarrassed or put down. "He treats us as people," was the feeling of class members.
"We leave with warm and happy feelings and eagerly wait for the next class," Schuck said.
While Reis is still planning to continue his own dream of an acting career, he loves what he is doing at Northshore. "This is my baby and they're my kids," he said.
He plans to continue his drama classes at Northshore and has already scheduled a performance of Recycled Cinderella and The Board Meeting at the center for May 24. He is also beginning a class for the disabled at Shoreline March 23. Other groups are also interested in his "Theater and Me" program.