Homeless youth paint outdoor art for residents at nursing home
During the coronavirus pandemic, it's not common to see older and younger people coming together in the community.
Cindy Cosenzo, owner of Hillsboro-based consulting business AgeCelebration, wanted to change that.
On Wednesday, May 20, several teens from the Safe Place shelter gathered outside EmpRes Rehab in Hillsboro to design inspiring art panels, which were then hung on residents' fences outside their windows.
"Set our 10 tables six feet apart to make sure we're all doing safe distancing," Cosenzo said, describing their social distancing setup. "We've got donated masks from organizations and gloves to keep us all safe. Each youth (had) a two by three-foot art panel (as) their canvas."
The art project took place in front of a large bay window where residents could watch as different art pieces came to life. Handmade signs saying "hello" and "stay strong" were also exchanged remotely in both directions.
The goal was for the community to feel connected during the project and leave behind the art panels as lasting symbols of connection, said Cosenzo.
"We can all empathize what it must feel like for a person to not be able to receive their family and their friends for nine weeks," she said. "People are keeping their spirits up recognizing it's the safe thing to do, but it's gotta be hard. So, hopefully … the youth and all of us feel like we've left the person who's stuck inside the building know that the community knows they're in there."
Visual artist Christine Martell has worked with homeless youth in the past, and she was pleased to do so again for the EmpRes Rehab project. Martell said it's valuable for them to have a creative outlet to get a break from what's going on in their lives.
"It gives them a moment of focus and calm," she said. "I've just seen it over and over again. It always has kind of a magical quality to it."
About 15 residents showed up to see the art project being made, instead of the five or so residents she first envisioned, Martell said.
Her favorite part was seeing both communities come together as one.
"Both are saying things like they're really bored, and they don't know what to do," Martell said. "Youth don't have the regular enrichment programs coming in on a regular basis, and they're, of course, out of school."
As for the actual painting process, Martell said she didn't give the teens much direction. She planned on having them express themselves in whatever way they saw fit.
"You influence a lot when you give people a background, for sure," Martell said. "They'll have a place to start. But I just let them go. They were all ready to be creative and did some beautiful work."
Consenzo also enlisted the help of Washington County Disability, Aging and Veterans' Services, or DAVS, to help with the project. DAVS covered the supplies and artist fee for the project.
"It was a lot of partners getting creative and coming together and thinking about how we could repurpose some of our resources and still work on engaging older adults throughout the crisis," said DAVS older adult behavioral health specialist Kera Magarill.
Magarill added that it's important for older folks to have a creative outlet, especially during a pandemic.
"We don't always think about mental health or emotional health and how important it is to maintain that quality of life piece," she said. "Sometimes we're just focused on the medical piece of it."
She hopes the project can inspire other people in the community to support nursing homes and assisted living places throughout the area.
"Keep the work going because there's certainly a lot more people out there in our county that are dealing with the challenges of isolation and loneliness," said Magarill. "It's gonna take a lot more people than we had to keep working on that."
People can continue to support the youth involved in this project by purchasing an "Art Experience Kit" to be donated to Safe Place and Home Plate Youth Services. Colours Art Supplies has an online purchase option for kits to be donated.
Cosenzo said the goal is to provide further opportunities for youth experiencing homelessness by allowing them to express themselves and their creativity. The teens will have a variety of art experiences to choose from, including acrylic, watercolor, graphite and charcoal, card making, adult coloring, and journaling.
For more information, visit coloursart.com and scroll down the page to "Art Experience Kits."
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