When Rita-Marie Geary began leading sessions on scrapbooking at the Rochester Psychiatric Center several years ago, she was pleasantly surprised to find residents eager to create collages using her nature photography.
"I figured everyone was coming for the coffee and cookies first, and the scrapbooking second," Geary said.
Once Geary invited residents to incorporate their own spirituality into the scrapbooking, she found participants became even more engrossed in their work.
Instead of one page, they started doing two and three pages at a time. Some residents began adding passages of Scripture to their creations, and others made prayer cards and spiritual bookmarks.
"It was remarkable," Geary said. "Right from the first day of spiritual scrapbooking, the people who used to sit around the edges of the room found a spot at the table."
Geary, a resident of Greece and a parishioner of St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport, said the success of spiritual scrapbooking at the psychiatric center has led her to want to create a nonprofit that could bring the activity to more settings where people need healing. Geary is in the initial stages of applying for nonprofit status for the organization — Healing Memories Shared.
"I want this to have a good foundation so that it will spread across the country," she said.
A lifelong photographer who has taken thousands of pictures, Geary got connected with scrapbooking when her sister was diagnosed with cancer in 2000. She began creating scrapbooks at Gilda’s Club, a local nonprofit that supports families struggling with cancer. Scrapbooking also was a way that she was able to cope with pain from several chronic medical conditions.
In 2003, a friend who works with the Mental Health Association suggested Geary might want to show residents at the Rochester Psychiatric Center how to scrapbook. Over time, some residents told Geary that they found scrapbooking to be very healing, as they recalled happy times and memories.
One example is a page that is lined with sunflowers and bears the words, "God, hello from RPC."
"I show up with the material and the Holy Spirit does the work," Geary remarked.
The success of spiritual scrapbooking at the center made Geary think that maybe scrapbooking could have the power to heal other people, such as those at community centers, senior centers or church groups.
Several friends are helping her see her idea to fruition, including Suzzy Payne of Fairport, who got to know Geary through St. John of Rochester.
"My very first impression of Rita-Marie was what a deeply spiritual person she is, and how many challenges she has faced and overcome," Payne said. "She is extremely creative."
Payne said she believes Geary is on the cusp of big growth with the nonprofit.
"I think a lot of people have a yearning (to scrapbook) or they want to do more," Payne said. "Perhaps they just put pictures in an album, but they don’t know quite how to focus it and create a plan."
Geary said she hopes nonprofit status for Healing Memories Shared will encourage people to donate Bibles and scrapbooking supplies so she can present to additional groups. She said based on her experience at the Rochester Psychiatric Center, there is room for growth.
"They are so grateful for my showing up," she said of the center’s residents. "It makes their day. It makes their week."
That point is visible in one of the collages a resident has made. In it, pictures of the sky, of a shoreline and of a stained-glass window are framed by the words, "Thank U God."