Interview Spotlight: PlantPals

AHI-PlantPals-082018-69Over the summer, we had the great pleasure of observing and participating in a PlantPals (now known as ALMA) program at Good Shepherd Health Care in Santa Monica. PlantPals transform lives by creating inter-generational relationships with volunteers and underserved seniors living in long-term care. Click here to read about our wonderful afternoon listening to Benny Goodman and planting succulents. Following the activity-filled afternoon, I was able to ask a few questions to PlantPals’ faciitators Julia Grace (founder) and Gina Simonelli.

What is the mission of PlantPals?

Julia: We want to reach as many nursing homes as possible and the biggest mission is to change the way that we relate to aging and shift the conversation. It doesn’t have to be something that’s so scary and disconnected. We can really bring vitality to every age of life. And that’s the mission of PlantPals—let’s bridge the intergenerational gap in order to do that.

What are future goals of PlantPals?

Julia: We want to scale and reach as many vulnerable populations as we can. So a few ideas are creating a training manual for those interested in volunteering their time, or even getting paid for their time, to learn how to bring this into nursing home facilities. The manual would also include training on how to engage at risk youth and implement this program in your local nursing home or someplace where there may not be many expressive arts opportunities. We’re also going to be partnering with NurtureCo, which is an online platform for home care for the elderly.

AHI-PlantPals-082018-39Also, finding a way to bring the silent disco technology to different mental health settings is a goal because it allows people to engage that typically wouldn’t. The same people often come to our groups and personally I want to reach the most vulnerable. So what about the people that are in their rooms? They’re even more isolated. So we actually go out to the hallways and into the rooms and hand out the headsets to get others engaged that typically won’t join. It’s a whole separate thing—I think we might call that Dance Pals.

What is the current pulse on elder care?

Gina: There’s a huge shift towards getting into people’s homes in elder care; “aging in place” is the term for this. It stepping away from the institutionalized approach.

AHI-PlantPals-082018-20Julia: The person-centered approach is what this platform (NurtureCo) is really about. Rather than coming into this person’s house and telling them what to do and giving them random food, it’s now tailored to the individual. So it’s a person-centered approach in that way. How do you really be with this person versus just going, doing things for them, then walking away? How do you engage in a meaningful way?

Can you share suggestions for those who want to pursue facilitation of Creative Arts Therapies or Expressive Arts Therapy?

Julia: Do it! Well I would just say it’s very fulfilling on so many levels. It’s not only fulfilling to the people to whom you’re bringing this, but also it’s fulfilling to yourself. I think creativity is just as important as food and water, and without it we stifle our vitality. I get paid to deliver this work and it’s valued, and people are starting to understand more about the power of embodiment work and creativity. So it’s being more and more accepted, and not only accepted, but desired. So I say absolutely find places to get training and go and volunteer with PlantPals and other organizations that exist. And get experience. Don’t read about it and think about it. Feel it, go, and do it. Experience it for yourself, and that’s really how you get a taste for this work.

AHI-PlantPals-082018-71Gina: And I think to piggyback on that, trust that this stuff works. Especially with this population, but really in any population. One of the beauties of creative arts therapies is that they’re adaptable. You enter with compassion. You enter a space by listening, and there’s so much that can happen without words. And at the end of the day, we all want to connect. We all want to really feel like ourselves—good in our bodies and in our souls. Roles in creativity help that happen. So this work is applicable absolutely anywhere by absolutely anyone. I truly believe that you can help foster your own compassion and your trust in this work and fine tune some of the ways of how to use it. It works. There aren’t words to really describe how it works. So definitely go check it out. Expose yourself to this, and keep an open mind.


Interview by Janelle Ketcher.

Interested in taking a look inside a PlantPals program session? Read our article, PlantPals: Heroes, Succulents & Love.

To learn more about our partnership with ALMA, click here.

If interested in collaborating, volunteering, or supporting ALMA, please visit their website at