Recreation programs help Parkinson’s patients craft a bright outlook

Northern Clay Center teaches at Capistrant Center in St. Paul

Bethesda Clay Program

Joy Weecks first came to Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul as part of a medical journey that began with balance issues and arm limpness and culminated with a 2013 diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

The Vadnais Heights resident kept returning to the campus over the years, first for support groups and more recently for activities offered by the Capistrant Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders. A crowded calendar is a purposeful part of Joy’s approach to her neurological disorder.

“I’ve noticed that the more active I am, the more my symptoms diminish and the more I feel like myself,” she says. “Plus, it’s like having your own mini support group a couple times a week. My husband says, ‘You’re going there again?’”

Creating her own road
A lifelong arts enthusiast, Joy began to wonder if those days were behind her due to Parkinson’s. Then another opportunity through the Capistrant Center at Bethesda caught her eye.

Pottery brings Parkinson’s patients together for a free, four-part class offered regularly through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Thanks to the renowned Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, they get to learn from a professional potter.

“The participants are often so focused on their medicine or physical routine, so it’s nice for them to have this creative outlet,” says recreational therapist Jill Riley. “Many come in thinking they can’t make art, but the instructor helps them come up with ideas, and at the end they can say, ‘I made this.’ It’s so cool.”

Last summer, Joy crafted a wind chime inspired by her flower garden.

“It was just huge for me,” she says. “Art has always brought me joy, so being able to start doing this again really makes a difference in my life. Parkinson’s can be scary, especially with the unknown of what you’ll run into, but if you deal with it and find things that make it better, the road is a lot easier.”

Healing for the soul
The Capistrant Center hosts a range of activities through Bethesda’s therapeutic recreation program, which emphasizes the power of meaningful leisure to address the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of Parkinson’s patients.

“A lot of times people with Parkinson’s tend to stay at home, but these classes get them out socializing while working on their motor skills and concentration,” Jill says. “They are opportunities for people to help their whole well-being. They socialize and they feel better, plus it’s just fun.”

For information on this class or other Bethesda therapeutic recreation programs, contact Jill at or 651-232-2776.

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