Wash Park nonprofit brings people together over croquet

Jiminy Wicket founder started the nonprofit after his father's dementia diagnosis

Posted 2/6/19

The diagnosis of his dads’ vascular dementia 10 years ago changed the course of James Creasey’s life. His dad, Maxwell, lived in Sevenoaks in southwest England, where Creasy was born. Creasy had …

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Wash Park nonprofit brings people together over croquet

Jiminy Wicket founder started the nonprofit after his father's dementia diagnosis

Posted

The diagnosis of his dads’ vascular dementia 10 years ago changed the course of James Creasey’s life.

His dad, Maxwell, lived in Sevenoaks in southwest England, where Creasy was born. Creasy had moved to Colorado in 1978. But Creasy decided he would visit his dad for two weeks, every 10 weeks, for the rest of his dad’s life.

As Creasey and his five siblings tried to navigate the weight of their father’s disease, each tried to find something to help them bond with him. That quest led Creasey to croquet — and an idea he would bring back to the United States for dementia patients here.

The Creasey siblings slowly found ways to connect with their father. They found more complex or fast games were lost after the diagnosis. Some activities were based on memories the family had of their father. One of Creasey’s sisters began to polish shoes with their dad because every Sunday he would polish the family shoes to get them ready for the week when they were children.

“You just create a whole new thing that you feel your way into,” Creasey said. “That’s really what I was doing with my dad.”

About a year before Maxwell’s diagnosis, Creasey had started learning how to play croquet in Colorado. He had played with some friends and later discovered a croquet lawn during a walk at Washington Park. Although he had never played with his dad before his diagnosis, Creasey thought it was worth a try.

And it turned out Maxwell liked the game: “He’d just get a big smile,” Creasey said. And “that was the moment where I felt the tap on the shoulder that was: ‘So what are you going to do with this moment?’ I thought I’d die a happy guy if I could put that smile on a half a dozen more faces.”

Creasey launched his nonprofit, Jiminy Wicket, shortly after. The organization brings dementia and Alzheimer’s patients to Wash Park, on the croquet lawn by the southern lake, in the summer for outdoor games of croquet. In the winter, Jiminy Wicket plays indoor games at St. John Lutheran Church and School, 1600 E. Exposition Ave., across from Washington Park. Over the years, Jiminy Wicket has put together more than 450 croquet sessions.

Six years ago, Jiminy Wicket expanded to include the Through Hoops to Hope program, which brought in student volunteers from South High School to play inter-generational games. The program is now in a school in the United Kingdom, as well as several schools in Colorado.

Creasey wants to expand Jiminy Wicket, as well as Through Hopes to Hope, throughout the U.S. and into more countries. He is hoping to raise funding to get the program into schools in Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago in the next year.

Volunteers from New York Life, a national insurance company, help run the school program here in Denver.

Joey Goldberg with New York Life volunteered during a middle school gym class with St. John Lutheran Church and School in January, and said he enjoys seeing the kids interact with the seniors from Brookdale Parkplace, an assisted living and memory care facility that participates in Jiminy Wicket. When they get a good shot, he added, the kids will give the seniors high-fives.

“That dynamic is priceless,” Goldberg said.

Kayleen Malone, a former gym teacher with the school, agreed.

Interacting with seniors helps push kids out of their comfort zone, she said. Creasey also teaches the students the history of the game of croquet, as well as a little bit about Alzheimer’s and dementia, Malone said.

The reason croquet works, Creasey said, is because of its simplicity. While in the inter-generational games he encourages students to connect with the seniors, he also said croquet is a game that doesn’t require a lot of talking. This can help ease people in who are unsure how to socialize with dementia patients.

The interaction between students and seniors helps to prevent isolation and lonliness in the senior community, Creasey said. At the end of the gym class, Creasey has the participants talk about their “magic moment” in the game. Many of the St. John students said they enjoyed spending time with the seniors.

Brookdale resident Kathy Sommers was all smiles during the game.

“I had played this game maybe 20 years ago,” she said. “It was wonderful to see it again.”

Those smiles are what are most important to Creasey.

“We’re in the business of making smiles across the generations,” he said. “The power of play makes people smile. I know we do it because it’s what I see every day.”

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