Jewish Family Service of Saint Paul

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LEAP (Life Enrichment Action Program for Adults 55+)

Depression and prolonged sadness are not a part of healthy aging.


LEAP is a screening and intervention program for adults 55+ shaped around the evidence based program created by Washington University – Seattle called PEARLS*. LEAP screens for long-lasting sadness and depression, encourages clients to engage in meaningful activity, promotes using a simple problem-solving technique to address problems that “get you down,” decreases symptoms of depression and improves a client’s overall sense of well-being. What makes LEAP unique is:

  • LEAP is delivered by trained practitioners in a participant’s home
  • LEAP services are FREE

Under LEAP, there are four distinct programs:

  • In-Home Art Therapy
  • MIA
  • Dementia Coaching Program

PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives)

PEARLS is short-term counseling/life coaching, treatment specifically designed for older adults dealing with low mood or depression. PEARLS behavioral activation program was researched and developed at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Behavioral activation is based on the theory that, as individuals become depressed, they tend to engage in increasing avoidance and isolation, which maintains or worsens their symptoms. The goal of treatment is to gradually decrease depressed individual’s avoidance and isolation and increase their engagement in activities they once enjoyed.

PEARLS counselors meets with adults 55+ in their homes to provide free one-on-one support over the course of 5 months. After the in-person sessions are complete, we also offer once a month follow up phone call sessions with the client for an additional four months.

The PEARLS counselors maintain contact with the client’s primary care doctor throughout the 8 in-person treatment sessions to report on their patient’s progress and any further recommendations for the client’s care.

When needed, referrals are made for PEARLS clients to help them be successful in addressing their depression and reaching goals that support their well-being. For example, referrals are made for psychotherapists, psychiatrists, grief support groups, care giver support groups, local senior centers, transportation options, and friendly visitor volunteers.

In-Home Art Therapy

Program participants receive eight free in-home visits over the course of two to five months. Additional visits will soon be available to purchase for eight-session graduates. The cost of the visits will be based on household income. During the facilitator’s visit, an art medium is used to facilitate self-expression, communication, and psychological healing. The focus is more on the process than the product.

A recent evaluation of the program revealed:

Sense of Accomplishment/Self-Esteem

All of those interviewed reported an increased sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. They expressed feelings of security and pride because they “have something to show.”

  • “It is giving me more confidence, it has helped me to take focus off some of the negative things in my life and try to redirect that energy into something positive.”
  • “When you accomplish something, you feel good, or you feel better than you did, so yeah… and I think for me, it is important that not too much time goes by between visits.”


The program requires a high degree of individual attention to the client’s needs based on their interests and what feels engaging and supportive to them. It also requires significant client engagement. Those surveyed indicated their renewed interest in art.

  • “[it is] definitely helping me think that it is okay to make art again and it doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be all those restrictions we put on ourselves, at least I can do it for the fun of it.”


More than half of the clients surveyed reported an overall improvement in their mood.

  • “She makes me feel like I can do something. When she leaves I always feel better than when she came and I hang on to that.”

Dealing with Depression and Isolation

The art therapy program also helps participants tolerate and process negative feelings better and provides a space for socialization through conversation, interaction, and activity.

  • “After (the facilitator) leaves, we (my wife and I) talk about what she did [that day] and what they are going to do next time they meet so after this ends, they will be done and there won’t be anything else, so that will be a sad day…”


The evaluation found that the clients who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are able to remember and anticipate the art sessions.

Over and over during the evaluation, clients and caregivers expressed their desire to keep the program going.

  • “I don’t want this to end. I have come to really depend on that contact, somebody who loves what I love, who is knowledgeable. It is special, that someone wants to come and do this.”

LEAP is supported, in part, by grants from the Stevens Square Foundation and UCare Foundation. LEAP is led by Jewish Family Service of St. Paul in partnership with:

  • Keystone Community Services / West Seventh Community Center
  • NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

LEAP has a variety of community organizations across the Twin Cities Metro that refer clients to this program.

Minnesota Institute of Art (MIA)

Each summer, JFS partners with MIA’s Celebrating Life program to bring art learning opportunities to seniors at the Institute on three occasions.

The goals of Celebrating Life are to offer older adults the opportunities to:

  1. learn about art
  2. establish an emotional connection with art, and
  3. find relevance for art in their own lives.

Longevity enables older adults to make many connections to works of art as well as to interact and share stories with other elders who share their historical context. It also provides older adults and adults with disabilities the opportunity to engage with works of art and with one another in playful and meaningful ways. Celebrating Life values critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, curiosity, inclusiveness and diversity, empathy, respect and kindness, lifelong learning and reflection.

MIA supplies themed sets of art objects, and adventure guides, one of whom is a geriatric social worker experienced in group work. The adventure guides lead two educational sessions using full-color poster reproductions of works of art from MIA’s collections, followed by a visit to MIA to view the real works of art. The St. Paul Jewish Community Center (JCC) provides the van and driver to transport participants and guides to MIA.

Dementia Coaching Program

JFS offers on-site, personalized education and support to adults experiencing memory loss or living with dementia, and/or their family members and care partners. Through our Dementia Coaching program, coaching is provided to those at any stage of the disease by a caring, skilled, licensed professional. Individual care partner coaching is also available. This service is supported, in part, through a Minnesota Board on Aging grant.

What dementia coaching includes

  • An in-depth assessment to identify current needs
  • Partnering together in the development of an action plan based on the individual or family’s needs, values, and goals
  • Ongoing follow-up, guidance, and support in meeting established goals
  • Disease education and referral to community resources
  • Family meeting facilitation
  • A focus on supporting well-being and honoring every person’s unique situation

Meaningful topics for discussion

  • Caregiver stress and self-care
  • Communication strategies
  • Safety
  • Preparing for difficult transitions such as limiting driving, bringing services into the home, or making a move to residential care
  • Problem solving and responding to challenging situations
  • Assistance with planning for the future
  • End-of-life decisions

For more information on any of the LEAP programs, contact Shannon Nixon at (651) 690-8904 or

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