Welcome Showers

April 28, 2020
Erich Burnett
Gratitude Showers Challenge illustration.

Oberlin students lead ‘‘Gratitude Challenge’’ with area hospital and children.

Back in January, a group of Oberlin students began a collaboration with a nearby hospital. Now those students and others have begun a new initiative to support that hospital’s staff.

They call it “The Gratitude Showers Challenge ,” which is intended to honor the dedication and sacrifice of healthcare professionals at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center. In recent weeks, the project has been further reenvisioned to involve the creativity of area children and to support a key fundraising initiative at the hospital.

The Gratitude Showers Challenge grew out of a winter-term project called Sonic Arts in Society, which involved five students from the college and conservatory, led by TIMARA technical director Abby Aresty. Together they set about devising a series of projects with UH Elyria:

• They prototyped bracelets that could tell the story of patients’ lives through audio recordings and meaningful scraps of fabric.

• They prepared creative programming to share with the hospital’s “Better Breather’s Club,” intended to examine the intersections of sound, breath, mindfulness, and technology for the benefit of COPD patients and others with respiratory conditions.

• And they devised the Gratitude Showers Challenge, a celebration of thankfulness among staff and others at the hospital that would culminate in a community art installation.

The projects developed during winter term were to be implemented by Aresty’s spring semester class, which is also called Sonic Arts in Society. (The winter-term project was profiled in this story on oberlin.edu.) But soon after Aresty’s spring students began their work, spread of the novel coronavirus changed the plans of hospitals—and everyone else—nationwide.

Abby Aresty works with students in TIMARA's makerspace
In January, Abby Aresty worked on Gratitude sundrops with students in TIMARA's makerspace.
Photo credit: Julie Gulenko '15

“The Gratitude project came about as a way to express gratitude across the hospital community,” says Aresty. “We were collecting anything that people at the hospital were grateful for, which was great. But the changes that have come about in recent weeks with COVID-19 have made it clear there’s a real desire among so many of us in the community to show our gratitude toward hospital workers.”

Sonic Arts in Society is supported by four student research assistants: Michael Gaspari ’22, Maya McCollum ’23, Gabriel Baskin ’23, and Rachel Gibson ’20. Once they were settled at home for the rest of the semester, they set about the task of repositioning the project for a virtual world, complete with a website , promotional videos featuring drawings and animations, original music—and a revised mission to raise funds for the community. Their hope is to connect the initiative with schools and local youth organizations.

“We all tried to convey the complicated feeling of having hope during dark times,” says Gaspari, a composition major who worked on the website’s music and animations. “To do that, I had the video start  with darker colors and shift slowly to warmer tones.” Likewise, Gaspari’s score transitions from minor to major chords. “Working on this has been a pleasure, and I can’t wait to see what it becomes in the future!”

Aresty and her students use craft cutters to fashion vinyl “sundrops” that can be decorated with brief, personalized expressions of thanks—words or drawings—to hospital personnel. When hospital officials deem it appropriate—and ideally when Oberlin students can take part—the collected sundrops will be installed on clear umbrellas suspended in a courtyard at the hospital.

Why “sundrops” as opposed to raindrops? The website identifies several reasons: In part because each message will deliver a ray of sunshine to those in need of support. In part because each drop will cast a welcome shadow when the sun shines through the installation. And in part because specially designed solar-powered “sundrop circuits” created by Aresty and her students will allow the installation to emit soft raindrop sounds when the sun shines. (Hear the sound of a sundrop circuit.)

Sundrop messages can be submitted via the Gratitude Showers Challenge website or the Twitter handle @GratefulShowers.

Supporters are also encouraged to donate to UH Elyria Medical Center's COVID-19 Community Response Fund.

In late April, Aresty’s students connected online to make sundrops with children from the Oberlin Choristers vocal program.

Also in the works is a virtual challenge that runs from Monday, May 4, through May 11. Aresty and her students are encouraging area children and others to submit drawings or messages of thanks that will then be transferred to sundrops for the hospital installation: As the messages pour in, Aresty and her students will be completing the sundrops at their homes.

The event kicks off with a broadcast on YouTube Premieres from 7:15 to 10 p.m. on May 4; details are available on Facebook . It also serves as an opportunity for participants to pledge to the UH Elyria Community Response Fund.

TIMARA student working in the makerspace
Sundrops use solar-powered circuits that simulate the sound of rainfall. (photo by Julie Gulenko '15)

Hospital administrators, not surprisingly, have been sharing their own messages of gratitude lately.

“What an amazing show of support for our caregivers in a time when feeling positive and hopeful is crucial,” says Kristi Sink, president of UH Elyria. “Aresty and her students have been extremely creative as they continue to work on this project.

“We couldn’t be happier with how Abby and her students are working so hard to provide our front-line staff with emotional support through the Gratitude Showers Challenge. We can’t wait for a time when the umbrellas can actually be displayed.”

This fall, Aresty will be co-teaching an interdisciplinary course for first-year students that focuses on arts and election-season activism. She hopes by then those new students will be able to finish the work her current students have begun.

“For so many of them, COVID-19 really defined their senior year in high school and—hopefully to a lesser extent—it will define their first year in college,” she says. “This would be a very powerful opportunity for them to give back.”

Institutions interested in having children create sundrops for the Gratitude Showers Challenge are encouraged to contact Abby.Aresty@oberlin.edu.

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