MHA Celebrates Christmas in July

SPRINGFIELD — The Resource Center (TRC) of MHA provides day programming for those with developmental disabilities and acquired brain injury. Activities, which can range from presentations on personal interests to cooking demonstrations to engaging in deep-breathing exercises, are geared to improving cognitive and physical skills.

Staff members work to present creative ways to engage such abilities as memory recall that can be impaired by stroke or other acquired brain injury. Recently, Jessie Beland, TRC’s program coordinator, decided to move up the 25th of December to the week of July 25, characterized by heat and high humidity that fatigued many Commonwealth residents.

“I came up with the idea of Christmas in July because it seemed like a fun idea, and because I was hopeful this would help the members to recall some happy memories from the past,” Beland said. “I wanted to lift the spirits of the members and was hopeful a week of Christmas-themed activities would be just the ticket. The heat wave also contributed to thoughts of snow-covered mornings in December.

“As far as I know, this is the first time Christmas in July has been celebrated at the center,” she added. “We are considering this week to be the little sibling to Christmas in December, a preview into the fun that is to come for the holidays.”

Beland said TRC participants, some of them residents of MHA’s programs, “enjoyed the idea when it was presented to them” and had an idea or two to make Christmas in July most authentic. “They requested cookie decorating, but left the rest up to staff to decide. They did request a full Christmas dinner, but we might save that for actual Christmas.”

She called a visit from Santa and his reindeer also “something we can think about for ‘real’ Christmas.”

Decorating the tree was set for July 26, but getting in the mood for this started a day earlier, she added. “Folks are helping to prepare for it by dressing in Christmas colors, reminding one another we are all together, and sharing their personal holiday stories. Some challenges encountered have been a lack of holiday-themed activity supplies. We made up for this by creating nature-themed ornaments, which are plastic Christmas ornaments filled with natural items such as moss, stones, and colorful sand and small colorful sequins.”

TRC participants seem to enjoy creativity, happily getting into costumes to participate in Beland’s “Old Hollywood Days” earlier this month when Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, and Judy Garland ‘appeared,’ and this May posed for portrait photos as part of Mental Health Awareness Month.

“Decorating our tree will be fun,” Beland said. “We use the same tree for every Christmas, and so we just pulled it out early to put it up. We are asking the members to help decorate it with decorations from the past and new decorations we can create this week.”

In perhaps the best spirit of the holiday, Jessie said there would be “no gift giving/receiving” of purchased items because “we want this experience to be equitable. We are encouraging our members to make gifts to give to their loved ones or to one another.”