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Cultured Companions help seniors experience the city's arts

The program is run through AMR Care Group, which provides assessments and continuing care management for seniors and people with disabilities.

Actress and writer Shana Casey of Manhattan, a

Actress and writer Shana Casey of Manhattan, a Cultured Companion, spends time with Mary Bess Spurlock, 77, of Manhattan, as they walk about the American Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Mary Bess Spurlock has always been up for an adventure.

In her younger days, she worked at a hotel in a European castle and traveled around the world  in a job with the United Nations.

So spending all her time in the Lower Manhattan senior residence she calls home is not an option.

“I’m easier to live with when I walk,” said Spurlock, 77, during a visit to the American Museum of Natural History.

Spurlock is able to nurture that curious spirit with the help of Shana Casey, a 26-year-old actor/writer, and a program called Cultured Companions at AMR Care Group.

The program pairs seniors and people with disabilities with actors, musicians and other artists so they can continue to soak up the rich culture available in New York City.

“As we age, we go into doctor and medication mode,” said Anne Recht, the founder and CEO of AMR Care Group, which provides assessments and  continuing care management for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as companion services. “Things like culture and socialization go by the wayside. But those kinds of connections are just as important as doctors and pills.”

Recht said the Cultured Companions program is tailored for clients of all abilities. It’s an extra service for its clients that costs about $50 an hour.

People who are homebound or don’t feel up to an outing might watch a film or listen to music and poetry with an artist who can talk in depth about the work.

Spurlock, an AMR client living with memory loss, is spry and enjoys walks through parks and museums.

“We aren’t tied down,” Spurlock told amNewYork during that recent visit to the American Museum of Natural History. “If a door opens, we go through it.”

She and Casey, who is also a teaching artist, have explored the New York Botanical Garden, Museum of Modern Art, Central Park Zoo, the Intrepid museum and other sites during their twice-weekly meetings.

“Mary Bess is a great person to talk with and we enjoy each other’s company,” said Casey. “You can live in New York and barely see it. This job kind of gives me permission to go and see the city.”

Their outing and discussions also help spark Spurlock’s fading memories. A walk through the museum’s animal dioramas leads to talk of her childhood in Arkansas and New Mexico.

“This isn’t about having someone take you to a Broadway show,” said Recht. “It’s about sharing those experiences with somebody who is knowledgeable, experienced and fun.”

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