When I think about gift-giving for the holidays, We Care Arts always comes to mind. A gift from the little shop is not only a handcrafted treasure, it’s also magical for the people who create it.
It was decades ago I was first introduced to Terry Schalnat and the innovative project she began in the basement of a recreation center in 1963. Her mission was to change disabilities into possibilities.
The organization continues to prove that the healing power of creating and producing art can transform those with physical, emotional, intellectual and neurological challenges, making their lives rich with possibilities.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the art studio, where classes are designed to meet the physical and cognitive needs of people with severe mental illness, physical and/or developmental disabilities including those recovering from an acquired brain injury or living with dementia. “The classes enrich them artistically and personally,” Schalnat once told me. “Our artists learn how to express their feelings and thoughts through art, and as a result, realize their own strength, courage, and innate creativity.”
Schalnat always said the We Care Arts philosophy stands in bright contrast to the traditional workshops many people with disabilities attend each day. The studio is lively, an environment where participants learn valuable job and life skills and are encouraged to stretch their minds in ways traditional programming might not provide. Coming to the agency or participating in an art class at one of the partner agencies gives these artists an opportunity to interact with a variety of people and reinforces effective communication skills.
Perhaps the best part is the friendships formed as client artists learn and work together. “If I was at home all the time I don’t know what I would do,” says Betsy Boesch. “I love being with my friends here.”
We Care Arts currently serves over 1,700 individuals from its Berkeley Center studio on Wilmington Pike in Kettering and in more than 30 off-site locations in the Greater Dayton area.
In addition to the art classes, We Care Arts hosts an Art Cafe for young artists between the ages of 18 and 25, travels to area hospitals to create art with cancer patients and teaches art classes at senior centers.
Meet Darlene Langhout
Those of us who attended a virtual community gathering for We Care Arts were inspired by the ways in which the organization has continued to serve its artists in new and creative ways over the past six months. “We Care Arts has always been an in-person, community-based program, so when new restrictions were put in place, our model had to adapt,” explained executive director Darlene Langhout, an Ohio State graduate who joined the staff in 2017.
In late spring, the organization offered virtual art sessions where artists could come to the building’s drive-through to pick up an art kit so they’d have the needed materials when they logged on for class. Once in-person classes with smaller numbers resumed in the studios, it was necessary to create a renewed studio space allowing for groups to maintain a safe social distance. “We have increased our materials and supplies with sanitation throughout studio sessions,” Langhout said, adding that in many ways We Care Arts has been reinvented by new adaptations. “Our mission is the same and the artists in our studios remind us daily how art inspires and heals through both happy and challenging times in our lives.”
A case in point is Steve Weiss, an artist at We Care Arts who wrote and illustrated a book entitled “Psych-itorials.” With the help of volunteer Jason Young, Weiss published his book in which he visualizes the many facets of mental health and its effects on an individual’s daily life. The book is on sale at the We Care Arts gift shops and online.
Langhout has a personal connection to We Care Arts resulting from her husband’s death in 2013. She and her daughter, who was 10 at the time, attended a program at We Care Arts led by Jonathon Haag from Dayton Hospice. The program centered around processing grief with art in a group setting.
“I have an art background from my time at Ohio State and my daughter was so young, art was suggested as an expression,” she recalls. “Our class was very difficult emotionally, however the connection with others in the room who were also grieving was important to healing. Looking around the room at other children who had also experienced the loss of someone special in their lives, you could feel the love and happiness as they shared the art centered around their experience.”
That feeling, she adds, is everything that We Care Arts is about. “Artists connect with each other because of like experiences and end up lifelong friends, supporting each other through healing.”
Shopping for the holidays
In non-pandemic times, We Care Arts maintains two lovely gift shops — one at their Berkeley Center in Kettering and one at the Town & Country Shopping Center. The artists receive a commission on any item sold.
Special events manager Anne Felts is currently overseeing the shops and says there are a variety of holiday gifts in stock. “People love our handcrafted holiday cards; we also have cute microwave bowl warmers that are really popular. We have beautiful ceramic mugs.”
You’ll find a lot of new jewelry this year and a wide variety of of colorful printed masks. Prices range from $3 for a knitted mug rug (that goes under your coffee or tea) to $130 for a mosaic cutting board.
Other gift possibilities include wooden cutting boards in the shape of Ohio, paintings, infinity scarves, handcrafted ceramic ornaments, leather bracelets, hand-sewn purses, and “Radiate Positivity” T-shirts.
“Both shops have been closed during the pandemic, but since we now have limited programming for our artists, we have reopened the gift shop at the Berkeley Center,” Felts says. The Town & Country gift shop has also reopened with limited hours.
There is an ongoing online shop as well. As new art is produced it is regularly being added.
Says Felts, “I love our mission and I love our artists and their spirit.”
HOW TO BUY
- We Care Arts Online Shop orders can be shipped or picked up curbside at the Berekely Center. Visit the shop at wecarearts.org/shop-2.
- We Care Arts Berkeley Center Gift Shop, 3035 Wilmington Pike, Kettering. Current hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
- We Care Arts at Town & Country Shopping Center, Kettering. Located near Trader Joes, this shop is now open with limited hours.
NOTE: Due to the pandemic, gift shop hours are subject to change. Please call We Care Arts at (937) 252-3937 for current store hours.
COOKIE WALK COMING UP
The Ninth Annual Cookie Walk, sponsored by the folks at Day Air Credit Union, will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Berkeley Center on Saturday, Dec. 5, with a drive-through pick up. Cookies are baked by we Care Arts volunteers. Preorder the decorated holiday cookies online for $8 per pound. Proceeds support artists and programming.
if you’re interested in donating cookies, please contact Anne Felts at email@example.com.
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