Employee Spotlight: Jessica Sebastian Reinvigorates Residents Through Art

Art therapist Jessica Sebastian firmly believes that “you’re never too old to learn something new.”

Since she started teaching art classes at Cedar Village more than six years ago, Jessica has seen countless seniors thrive creatively and personally.

“I love channeling my energy into helping older people express themselves and try different things,” she said. “Creativity doesn’t fade with age.”

Jessica teaches in the community three days a week, conducting group and individual sessions in the assisted living facilities. She also meets with independent living residents two to three times a month. Each session starts with a theme — this is the therapeutic part. Jessica encourages residents to reflect on their lives and artistically express how they feel about aging, family, friends, etc. Although painting is the primary medium used, residents also experiment with sculpture, found objects, photography and more.

One of Jessica’s favorite pieces of artwork was last year’s mural for the community art project. Each year, the Jewish Community Center donates canvas panels to local organizations and allows them to display their work in a fall exhibit. Cedar Village produced an image of a tree and its shadow, representing the residents’ current and past lives.

Resident Ethel Nemoff’s life changed quite a bit once she started taking Jessica’s classes about four years ago.

“She’s very shy and humble,” Jessica said. “So when a resident life staff member encouraged her to come to one of my painting classes, she was hesitant because she was reserved and not usually very expressive. But she ultimately thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’ After that first class, she walked out and said, ‘I can’t believe it; I’m a painter!'”

Ethel’s first piece was a painting of the Cincinnati skyline, which her granddaughter took on a trip to Israel to remind her of home.

“Since then, Ethel has been to every art class I’ve offered,” Jessica said. “She’s so trusting and willing to go along with the artistic process. She’ll try anything now.”

From designing sets for the community’s annual play to illustrating a new children’s book project, Ethel eagerly dives into every artistic endeavor. And she’s 104 years old — a testament to Jessica’s belief that age doesn’t restrict creativity.

Ethel and Jessica

“At the end of each group art session, I feel like I’ve accomplished something,” Ethel said.

Not only do these sessions give residents a sense of pride and purpose, but they help them express their feelings as well. Ethel credits Jessica with helping her open up through art.

“It’s her personality,” she said. “She’s outgoing and helpful to everyone. It makes us gravitate toward her.”