Featuring: Charita Wells, Activities Assistant, Carroll Manor

“Gospel music is nothing but singing of good tidings — spreading the good news. It will last as long as any music because it is sung straight from the human heart.” 
Mahalia Jackson

Probably more has been written about music than has ever been written about religion or fishing, so fundamental is it to our being. For Plato, “Music is a moral law, giving soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” For Sarah Dessen, “Music is the great uniter, an incredible force. Something that people who differ on anything and everything else can have in common.” And Confucius simply says, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Importantly, music has serious health benefits—boosting dopamine, lowering cortisol— it makes us feel great and heals the wounds that medicine cannot touch.  As neurologist Oliver Sacks points out, “The power of music to integrate and cure is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication.”

It’s no wonder that senior living communities across the country are integrating music programs into their daily activities. We know that music can make us feel better and that many healthcare facilities find it to be both a great healer and a great motivator for their patients. So, it’s no surprise that Ascension Living Carroll Manor, a senior living community in Washington, D.C., recruited Charita Wells to help with their music program.

When she came to Carroll Manor, she discovered she had other talents, because “everything is an activity.” Her first day on the job, she was leading an exercise program, and she worried no one was participating. “Half were sleeping, half were on the side watching. I didn’t know what to do. So, I started playing R&B music, and one lady started singing ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.’”  Charita thought, “I got it now, and we started clapping and singing and it’s been going on ever since.”

Charita was honored by Ceca Foundation for stepping up as an engaged caregiver and leader for the residents’ weekly ‘Holy Mic’ activity. “This was my manager’s creation,” she explains. “He wanted to present something spiritual for the residents because, during the pandemic, they could no longer go listen to the chapel choir.” So Charita researched what type of music the residents wanted to listen to. She described, “We have Catholics here, but we also have a lot of old Baptist folk, and they love gospel music. We had a Bluetooth speaker, and I pulled up a karaoke song. I started off with the music, ‘I want to be at the meeting around the throne,’ and the residents just started clapping and stomping and shouting hallelujah. What the ‘Holy Mic’ does is take them back to where they used to be. The most amazing thing is, I’ve seen residents about to go home to the Lord, and suddenly they’re better, just because of music. When they reach their seventies and eighties, they have a relationship with God, and this music feeds them spiritually.”

Charita engages residents in a lot of different activities – making Italian ices in summer, shopping, live bands, cooking on the grill. During the pandemic she organized room visits and engaged residents in small games and activities – Bingo, planter gardening, in-room painting, Easter egg hunts, pumpkin contests. But for Charita, everything starts with music. “When you are an activities person, you have to have something in your pocket to engage residents, because they may not want to do what you are doing. It’s about creating moments of joy and empathy and putting yourself in the residents’ and family members’ position. It’s about meeting people where there are and watching them grow.”

Charita was thrilled to receive the Ceca Award for all her creative work and commented, “I just wish this Ceca program could go world-wide, where every facility and every person could benefit from it. I would like to see a Ceca program within the public school system, for teachers.” Charita Wells, who succeeds at everything, may well be the one to take it there.