Sometimes all a person can manage is a dancing eyebrow. Sometimes, a lifted finger or a smile.

“It’s all dance,” said Ranae Couture, art therapy coordinator at Spectrum Health Rehab and Nursing Center on Fuller Avenue in Grand Rapids. “Many of our residents are in wheelchairs and others are bed-ridden due to illness or injury, but it’s all movement and they love to participate.”

Add purpose to that dance and enthusiasm rises to yet another level.

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed doors to in-person participation in various rehabilitation activities, Couture worked with health care arts professional Lori Teft, of Celebrate Dance Studio, to find new ways to involve residents.

Couture and Teft have worked together since 2009 on an Expressive Arts program called Life Sparks, involving creative movement, storytelling, music and art. They’ve since brought aspects of the program to four other rehab facilities.

“But the pandemic changed how we could bring the Life Sparks programs to our residents,” Couture said.

Technology and location became paramount.

“We were blessed to have the technology available to make our programs virtual,” Teft said.

“And we had a large room at the Fuller Street facility with a monitor, so that we could socially distance residents while bringing tablets around to those who couldn’t move out of their rooms,” Couture added.

Room and equipment ready, Teft came up with an idea that added purpose to the fun.

They created a reward for every win.

“I made a huge wheel, just like in game shows, and called it the Wheel of Wonder, or WOW,” Teft said. “The residents absolutely love game shows—and they love this one. They win points and the points win food items to feed families.”

In a partnership with North End Community Ministry, serving the Grand Rapids area, Teft arranged for winning points to be turned into non-perishable food items, donated to children and families in need.

“Canned goods, boxes of mac and cheese, boxes of taco shells, that sort of thing,” Teft said. “The residents feel good about having the chance to help others.”

Often in a position of requiring a helping hand, they relished the ability to lift others up.

Teft often begins the game show with Maci, her golden doodle dog, on the big screen. The pup has become the game mascot, never failing to elicit smiles.

Couture is with the residents in person while Teft spins the wheel online, visible on the monitor.

“I change the game each week to keep it fresh and keep the residents engaged,” Teft said. “I love looking into people’s happy faces as they play, but doing it virtually doesn’t always mean it’s two-way, so I do miss that. But having a bag of food to deliver to the Ministry after, that’s a win-win.”

At times, Couture said, there are three to four people in the room. But if needed, she can walk from room to room to bring the tablet individually to someone’s bedside.

Teft spins the wheel, which will point to an activity. The resident performs the activity, winning points.

“We keep it all sensory,” Couture said. “Storytelling, music, telling jokes. There’s a little bit of everything on the wheel.”

The Expressive Arts Program has been offered at Spectrum Health since 2009.

“We bring the arts to all four of our rehab locations,” Couture said. “Two locations are at Spectrum Health Rehab and Nursing facilities, another one is at our foster care homes for individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. We now include the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, too.”

The hour-long Expressive Arts Program is offered each week, always tailored to individual interests and talents.

“We find out what appeals to that particular patient,” Couture said. “Writing, sculpture, painting, creative writing, whatever clicks. The other day we had someone who really likes Star Wars, so we developed a project of painting planets.”

Twice a year, artwork created by rehab and long-term care residents are put on exhibit for the general public.

“We had to stop those during the pandemic, but we hope to have the exhibits on again soon, even if only virtually,” Couture said. “Artwork can be purchased and part of the proceeds goes to the artist and part to the arts program.”