Aron Graham, 54, hovered over an old cigar container, gliding his fine-tipped paintbrush over its surface to create an intricate flower design.
“Art calms my nerves,” Graham said, looking up from his project, now an ornate jewelry box. He returned to humming Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which wafted through a packed community room at Sacramento nonprofit Health For All.
“So does music,” he added with a grin.
In 2013, Graham, who has long battled bipolar disorder, suffered a debilitating nervous breakdown. The episode came at the culmination of several tragedies – including the death of Graham’s roommate and his autistic son’s involvement in two car crashes – that happened just months apart.
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“I became so introverted after my breakdown,” Graham said. “I didn’t want to see anyone. I felt I couldn’t even leave the house. I ended up spending almost a year in bed.”
He subsequently lost his job as a manager at a travel agency, and his apartment soon after.
In July, Graham sought help and received a referral to Health For All, where he now participates in a weekday schedule of arts and crafts, interactive games, music, dance, education and exercise.
He quickly gained celebrity status among clients and staff with his routine “quote of the day” and his vast catalog of jokes. In October, Graham won the community talent show performing a comedy sketch.
“When I first came here, I could barely carry a conversation,” he said. “I shook when people approached me, but the staff encouraged me to be social, make friends, participate in activities.
“(Health For All) has been the catalyst in getting me back to the person I want to be and achieving the world I want for myself.”
Graham is among about 100 adults who benefit from art, music and health programs at Health For All’s Meadowview Clinic. Health For All serves low-income, disabled individuals through adult day-care programs. Most clients are older than 50 with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities, including sight and auditory impairments, autism and dementia, said Norma Ivy, activities coordinator.
“Often, being a disabled senior makes it difficult to make an income or take care of yourself,” Ivy said. “We give them a place to go, things to do.”
A small budget and dependence on community donations have made it difficult for Ivy to find money for supplies and equipment that would sustain popular daily activities.
Health For All is asking Book of Dreams readers to provide disabled adults with enjoyable, creative day programs by helping purchase a variety of items, including basic craft supplies and a karaoke machine.
The organization’s main objective is to provide individuals therapy by way of harboring a creative, social and active environment, Ivy said.
“This gets people out of the house and gives them the opportunity to be social and creative,” Graham said as more than 50 clients participated in a game of “name that tune” and danced around the community room. “At home, it’s so easy to become dreary.”
Health For All also provides programs such as physical therapy, nutrition courses, animal therapy, at-home care and Covered California health care support, Ivy said.
“Sometimes life doesn’t move the way we want it to,” Graham said. “But the staff here makes a true difference in many people’s lives with a great deal of enthusiasm.”
Needed: Supplies for cognitive stimulation activities, including craft supplies and a karaoke machine
Book of Dreams Wishes
Here’s a list of wishes published so far in the series:
Dream: Funds are sought to help pay for items for Melissa Oliver’s wedding. Oliver’s father, Danny, a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, was killed in the line of duty in October 2014.
Needed: Wedding dress, groom suit and cake
Dream: Next Move’s Family Shelter seeks funds to supply clothing to comfort homeless children.
Needed: Pajamas, socks and underwear
Dream: My Sister’s Café, a branch of the nonprofit My Sister’s House, needs work apparel for its workers.
Needed: New aprons and uniform T-shirts
Dream: Funding for blanket-making equipment for the Elk Grove-based Gramma’s Hugs Factory
Needed: Three special sewing machines