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Art Assists Retired Actors At Englewood's Lillian Booth Home

Director of Recreation and Volunteers Yalile Azate, right, with Lillian Booth Home resident Teak Lewis.
Director of Recreation and Volunteers Yalile Azate, right, with Lillian Booth Home resident Teak Lewis. Photo Credit: Arthur Augustyn

ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — Yalile Azate went to school for fine arts, but found her outlet of expression by helping seniors at Englewood's Lillian Booth Home.

The center was founded by The Actors Fund to assist senior retired actors. Some of the residents of Lillian Booth have memory problems such as dementia or Alzheimer's, but their artistic core remains.

"Even though you’ve declined mentally you’re still able to create art, that part never dies in you," Director of Recreation and Volunteers Yalile Azate said.

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Opening Minds Through Art is Lillian Booth's version of a concept created by a University of Miami professor. Azate learned of the program while living in Garfield and obtaining her certification. She started applying it to residents at the home.

Residents meet weekly and draw or paint based on general guidelines. For some patients, they're unable to remember previous sessions of the art classes, but their skill is consistent.

"You can see them on the paper," Azate said.

She continued to say that residents might not remember their past work, but their stylistic progress remains. Each person's work can be identified week by week just by looking at the artistic choices they've made.

This type of expression can have a profound effect on some individuals. Azate recalled one resident named Winifred who was legally blind and would frequently call out random names — confusing the staff on her intent.

"The reason why she was yelling out was she was bored to death," Azate said.

Winifred had an admiration for poetry and despite her blindness still held a fondness for the written word. Azate suggested that Winifred say what words she was thinking and Azate would write them down.

This eventually led to recitals for other residents and staff, who were impressed by Winifred's otherwise hidden skill.

"I always remember her very specially," Azate said through tears. Winifred passed away a number of years ago.

Originally set on being an artist, Azate said she enjoyed her work at Lillian Booth. She'll have worked as a Director for the home for 18 years this April. She recently moved back to Clifton and intends to stay with the home.

"Days of work here are never the same," Azate said.

"We had a co-worker that would say 'This is not a job, it’s an adventure.'"

The Lillian Booth Home is currently under significant renovations. Many of Azate's classes' paintings are in storage until parts of the renovation are completed.

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