Gen Gawkoski of Wauwatosa loves making crafts and when she looked for crafting ideas online she came across Alzheimer's activity mats.
"I had never heard of them, and they were so interesting I kept looking," she said.
Her friend had given her a place mat hoping she could turn it into something. Then it clicked, Gen used the mat to make an activity mat for people with Alzheimer's and Dementia.
"My second thought was, well why would I send it away when we've got our own memory care unit right in my own back yard."
The St. Camillus campus has a memory care unit steps away from the independent living center. So patients there can use the mats lovingly sewn by Gen and her friends.
"We use the mats as part of our sensory stimulation program," said Bridget McNair, the research and life enrichment director at St. Camillus.
"Sometimes it's hard to communicate with someone who can't verbalize their thoughts or emotions," she added. "It works well for individuals who may need an opportunity to use their hands or be able to connect with something- that they don't have to really think through a thought process. And it helps them engage with others and their loved ones."
Each mat is hand-stitched with different kinds of activities. It just depends on what scraps Gen and her friends have on hand.
"You just have to scout around because there's a variety of things," Gen said. "It takes a while to do them. You have to be sure you sew them on very well so they don't come off."
McNair said it helps that each mat is different.
"Some are Christmas-themed and some are a little bit more bedazzled so a little flashy. It might capture someone's attention. So we use their past life history and their known interests and try to match them up with the right quilt."
A thoughtful, handmade gift for a stranger who might not be able to put their own thoughts into words.
"We are so thankful for their thoughtfulness and for them reaching out to us and taking time to use their talent to create something we can really benefit from," McNair said.
And Gen is just happy to help, "I'm humbled that there's help for patients. That's the bottom line."