An ambitious yearlong effort to elevate nursing home programming, and the lives of Kentucky residents, is coming to fruition in a little over a week.

Morgantown Care and Rehab on Saturday, March 23, will host the first in series of theater performances that have been developed by nursing home residents and professional artists. The “I Won’t Grow Up Project” was spearheaded by parent company Signature HealthCARE, based in Louisville, KY. It worked with nonprofit TimeSlips, which focuses on bringing joy and meaning to the lives of older adults.

They’ve hired a slew of professional artists to aid in the effort, fueled by a $750,000 in Civil Money Penalty dollars from the Kentucky Office of Inspector General and CMS, and funding from Art Works, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts. The goal was to create nursing home programing that was so interesting that families and neighbors wanted to participate alongside residents and staff.

“The idea is how can we use different approaches to help solve an age-old problem that we have in nursing homes,” says Angie McAllister, director of quality of life and culture change for Signature. “We’re fighting loneliness, we’re fighting helplessness, we’re fighting boredom, things that have been handed down for years. Frankly for me, this is a way to infuse purpose into our elders’ lives.”

McCallister says they first applied for a grant in early 2017 and found out they were recipients by the end of the year. They’ve been meeting for more than a year now —with a team of regional and national artists, nursing home staffers and residents at 12 Signature homes — to reimagine the story of Peter Pan.

Their finished product is called “Wendy’s Neverland,” which tells the tale of a grown-up Wendy, who lives in a nursing home and is on hospice. Staff and residents honor her, recreating the stories she’s been telling for years, according to an event page. McAllister didn’t want to get deeper into the one-hour show’s plot, unwilling to spoil the surprise, but said that it does include a “wheelchair ballet.”

The first four shows will be staged March 23-26 inside Morgantown Care and Rehab. Free tickets to the performances have been a hot item, with the mayor of the Kentucky town reportedly closing government offices to attend. Future performances will take place in May at Signature’s Lee County Care & Rehabilitation Center, Beattyville, KY, and June at the Sunrise Manor Nursing Home, in Hodgenville, KY.

They plan to hold a forum in June after the last show concluded to discuss the project and what they’ve learned, followed by another gathering in 2020. Anne Basting, the founder and CEO of TimeSlips, is excited to see the finished product after months of work.

“It’s been a tremendous emotional experience,” she says. “This is not just a one-off activity that’s fun, and it’s not just entertainment. It’s something that is incredibly powerful and meaningful for people to participate in — the elders, the staff, the volunteers who have lived in the same community and never visited the nursing home are integrated fully and are equally excited to be a part of this.”