Young artists featured at the Walters Cultural Arts Center this month all started out homeless and learned to practice their craft only after stumbling onto an organization called p:ear, which works to build positive relationships with homeless and transitional youth through education, art and NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - This acrylic painting, Bottle My Feelings, is one of a handful of anonymous works at the p:ear exhibit of works by homeless youth and their mentors.

That’s the word from Jerry Dickason, an artist who mentored some of the youth.

“Art, in some form, is often a starting point in negotiating survival,” Dickason said.

Portland-based p:ear (project: education, art, recreation) serves about 900 homeless and transitional youth each year from the metropolitan area, including those who make their way from Washington County, where in the 2009-10 school year, there were an estimated 2,298 homeless, school-age youth, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

The p:ear organization serves youth aged 15 to 24, aiming to build positive relationships and healthier, more meaningful lives.

When p:ear reached out to the Falcon Art Community for mentors, Dickason volunteered.

He said most homeless youth come into p:ear with only their backpacks, which often contain everything they have. They are reluctant to part with the packs, but at p:ear, defenses eventually come down and the youths allow themselves to be vulnerable in the welcoming community, among trained staff and mentors. Pippa Arend, development director of p:ear, said the youths’ shoulders actually begin to relax as they’re welcomed into a three-tiered environment that is safe, first of all. Along with safety comes warmth, food and community.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Chain Mail by  guest artist Tony Furtado is a ceramic piece with an oxide wash. Mentoring follows, in which youths learn the skill of trusting an adult and, ultimately, themselves. Their trust of adults has often been lost through the trauma of leaving home.

Finally, an important transition occurs as the youth makes a statement in the world through his or her own initiative. This statement might be passing the GED, having their art displayed, finding a job or training for one. Among other efforts, p:ear runs a successful barista training program.

Arend recalls a 19-year-old who had been living on the streets since age 12. He made his way through the program until he got to the point where he was ready to sell his artwork. The young man, estranged from his family for five years, invited his mother, sister and 5-year-old nephew to his exhibit. The reunion eventually led to him living with his sister and training to become a mechanic.

Art is not an answer but rather an approach for the homeless youth, said Dickason, whose art is also part of the exhibit.

“Art comes from within,” he said. “And the moment you start tapping what you’re feeling inside, you’re expressing your humanity.”

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