Fidget Friends seek to help dementia patients

Published 4:24 pm Saturday, March 19, 2022

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People of a certain age often have reams of things saved up for future use.

Ann Snuggs admits she has a basement full of doodads, all leftover from her years of designing crafts for magazines.

But she’s found a way to use those treasures. Thousands of buttons, yards of fabric, skeins of embroidery floss, silk ribbon, tiny satin roses and thread, for starters.

Handy storage has been a problem, but little by little the stash is moving into Aleshia Holland’s office in the Stanly County Senior Center.

“Aleshia has gone out of her way to help us. She’s been wonderful,” said Snuggs.

Holland is the programs supervisor at Stanly Senior Services and has joined heart and hand with Snuggs in a service project for people who live with dementia.

After retiring from the business of crafting, Snuggs offered her time to local hospice organizations. Years later, Bunny Hasty, the hospice volunteer coordinator in Scotland County, told her about “fidget aprons” for dementia patients.

“When dementia hit my family in a personal way, I found support through the Caregiver Connection group Alecia facilitates at the Senior Center,” said Snuggs, “and I shared the fidget apron idea with the support group.”

Last fall, Snuggs and the Fidget Friends began meeting every Monday from 10 a.m. to noon.

Each week they haul plastic bins of supplies from Holland’s office to a large room where the items are accessible. Early on they got advice and encouragement from Hasty and have learned more about the valuable use of everyday objects for sensory stimulation.

Through their efforts, 24 fidget aprons have been delivered to dementia patients in Stanly County and another 20 are ready to be donated.

Snuggs looked for inspiration online and then applied her extensive design knowledge to making a sample apron. The group decided a black background served to highlight the accessories best, and they liked a style like a carpenter’s apron.

“God has given everybody a different gift. Our combined gifts come together to make the whole. I try to look at this project from the different perspectives, though someone must make decisions about quality control,” said Snuggs.

Fidget Friends still collects other supplies and gladly receives donations toward the purchase of the ready-made aprons.

Originally, Snuggs wanted a heart sewn on every apron, and every apron now includes a white hanging tag designed with a circle of red hearts.

“I love it when I know I’m helping others. Serving is my spiritual gift,” said Maxine Basinger.

She created “hospice angels” for years and is again putting her sewing skills to use.

Fidget Friends members Mary Louise Sawyer, Karen Fournier, Ann Snuggs, Barbara Ledbetter and Maxine Basinger look over some of their work during a meeting at the Stanly County Senior Center. (Photo by JO GREY)

During work sessions, members confer about the best placement for at least six features on each apron. Using a designer’s eye, they adapt the various supplies they have on hand, then someone takes the apron home and permanently attaches the items using very strong thread.

Small stuffed animals slide in and out of pockets, attached with a ribbon. A stretchy glove must be securely affixed so the marble inside can be squished around inside without falling out.

Pulling and stretching motions might tear away plaited braids or zippers if not carefully sewn.

The Friends’ newest member Barbara Ledbetter was looking for a group of quilters when she stumbled on the Fidget Friends. Now she contributes her sewing skills to the group.

After decades in technical services at the Stanly County Public Library, Ledbetter is happy to serve the Stanly community in a new way.

Karen Fournier is an experienced crafter who’s also been looking for a volunteer opportunity since she retired and has found a fit in Fidget Friends.

Debby Johnston says she doesn’t sew, but she enjoys collecting, sorting and designing. For inspiration at a recent meeting, she brought a treasured possession made for her grandchildren — a “Quiet Book” constructed of fabric and filled with features that teach children to tie shoes, zip zippers, match shapes and even tell time.

The Fidget Friends plan to incorporate some of those examples in their newest project.

News of the Fidget Friends’ accomplishments caught the attention of a school counselor and of ABS Kids — both serve autistic children.

Fidget Friends is now designing mats with features like the fidget aprons have for teaching fine-motor skills in classrooms or for home-based therapy.

Snuggs says the need for these handmade articles is increasing with the aging population. They bring enjoyment and relaxation to loved ones.

“I see this as a ministry,” says Snuggs.

All the women give of their time and talents in a way that suits them, whether collecting, sorting, designing, sewing or delivering.

Snuggs says other interested ladies who’ve not been able to join the assembly line have contributed items, either purchased or handmade, and some have given money.

“We use seed money to buy aprons and other supplies and the need will surely increase,” says Snuggs. “Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease involving different kinds of treatment. At some point, a caregiver will see a need for an apron, and will be glad if they have one on reserve.”

Anyone ready to get on board with the Fidget Friends is invited to call the Senior Center in Albemarle at 704-986-3772.