Participating in event planning is one important way for nursing home residents, adults with dementia and people with developmental differences to exercise self-advocacy and decision-making skills. When everyone has input on activities, menus and entertainment, an event is much more meaningful and enjoyable.
Set time aside for a Christmas party planning session in your day program's schedule. A few days before the planning session, let participants know that they will be planning a Christmas party and ask them to think of the things they want to do, decorations they would like to make, foods and drinks they would like to serve, and who they would like to invite.
Have a voice activated tape recorder, notebooks, pencils, markers, magazines, scissors and glue sticks available. Have fellow participants scribe for those who have trouble writing or speaking. Be sure all ideas are written down, and no one's ideas are shot down on the first pass. An activity that appears too difficult or expensive on the surface can often be adapted in a way that makes the individual who suggests it happy without breaking the budget.
Have each participant write, draw or glue a picture of the things she wants to see included in the event onto a large piece of poster board. Refer to the poster later when planning the menu and activities for your Christmas party.
Brainstorm possible locations to hold your party. Be sure that the facility will be fully accessible to all participants and that everyone who needs toileting assistance will be able to get into and out of the bathrooms. Arrange transportation, including pickup and drop-off schedules for anyone with accessibility needs.
Ask each person what they want to do to help make the party a success. Form groups to make decorations, choose music for a dance or caroling session, shop for food and party favors, help make invitations and any other task needed. Provide any necessary adaptive equipment to enable each person's full participation in all activities, with as much independence as possible. Make a tentative Christmas party plan based on participant input. This first draft of the plan should include all the suggested activities and menu items.
Brainstorm how to balance costs against the number of people who will enjoy the activity. For example, if a majority would like to include a dance, find out if a local DJ would be willing to donate his time. Another possibility is to create a list of requested songs on someone's iPod and attach it to a set of speakers with a cable.
Borrow or rent a karaoke machine. Karaoke is an excellent activity for people with speech differences. Many people who have difficulty speaking are able to sing without any pauses, stutters or slurring. Have a couple of extra microphones available for groups to sing together.
Decide on a menu based on the requests of participants. Include sugar-free alternatives to desserts and drinks, and be aware of any food allergies among participants. Decide whether food will be served catering style, family style or as a buffet. Get an approximate head count of all possible attendees, including family members, friends and interested community members. Create a sign-up list for people to bring requested side dishes and desserts or donate a dish of their choice. Meat, beverages and breads typically are provided by the host.
Making the Party Affordable
Make a list of local businesses that might provide some of the items needed for your Christmas party. Businesses patronized regularly by program participants might donate to your group. Send a thank-you note signed by as many participants as possible, and print a thank you in your program's newsletter or local paper as well.
Ask staff members to contribute decorations, equipment, cookware and other needed items to the center for the Christmas season. Get everything back to the right person afterward. Get staff input on the menu and activity schedule. Pay particular attention to the level of assistance that will be needed. Enlist volunteers to assist with serving food, leading an activity, cleaning up and getting participants ready for transport.
Use coupons, special offers, rebates and employee discounts to purchase any items which cannot be donated or borrowed. If the owner of the business where you are making a purchase is available, explain why you need the item and that you are looking for the best possible price. Many business owners will discount an item just to move it out of inventory.
Adjust your plan if you are unable to get the needed items for an activity at an affordable price. Ask the individual who requested that activity what alternative he would find acceptable.
Choose enough activities to fill a two-hour party, with a one-hour setup and tear down time.
Avoid decorations that reflect light and blow around, such as glittery table skirts; they can cause seizures in some participants.
Make sure the speakers have their own power source or the iPod will have weak audio output and the battery might run down well before your Christmas party ends.