The Art of Healing
Since February 2011, The REACH, a resource center supporting youth ages 16-24 experiencing homelessness, has served over 5,200 unduplicated youth in a nine-county region. The center provides critical basic necessities, housing options, access to support services, and independent living skills; however, it strives to offer something intangible but just as important—a feeling of belonging.
“When kids feel like they belong and have a sense of community, they are able to break cycles and become productive members of society,” said Tasha Moulton, Senior Program Manager at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota operating The REACH.
Dana Sikkila from the 410 Project understands the importance of building a connection through creative expression. She recently found success creating community through art with incarcerated artists at the Faribault Correctional Facility. Due to the success of that program, The REACH staff called Dana with the idea of implementing a similar strategy at their location. It wasn’t long until they piloted the Youth Engagement Project.
“I was so excited when Dana agreed. We often encourage youth to engage with their community. Art provides a way for them to do that while expressing themselves in a healthy way to heal from trauma,” said Moulton.
The art program involves weekly sessions with Dana at The REACH location and provides materials with prompts of all types including painting, drawing, or the written word. At the beginning of the program, students would sit side-by-side, working in silence. After a few weeks, students cautiously started conversations that eventually led to opening up to each other about their experiences.
“These kids often feel like they’re flailing and lose hope. Art is a beautiful way for them to feel a part of a community,” said Moulton.
The young artists adapted well to having Dana in the space, and creativity flourished, but a new problem presented itself: a need for additional art supplies for the expanding program.
A newspaper article reported the collaboration of the two organizations and expressed the need for the supplies. It caught the eye of an advisor for the Marian Anderson Fund of the Mankato Area Foundation. By that afternoon, the fund adviser connected with Nancy Zallek, President and CEO of MAF, and she connected with Moulton.
“It happened so fast! Nancy called to discuss the project and our needs. I shared that it was going well, but an additional hurdle was to find easels for displaying art at an exhibit this fall. She completely stopped and said, ‘Hold on…I need to make a couple of calls.’”
A couple of calls included one to Jessica Potter at the Blue Earth County Historical Society, where Marian Anderson, a beloved local artist, housed many of her original pieces—including art easels.
“When Marian entrusted us with her estate, she made it very clear that her artwork was to be enjoyed by the public. Herself a shy and introverted student, she believed in the power of art to heal and increase self-confidence. Marian also had a history of working with young people. She would be so pleased that her fund would purchase art supplies and her easels would be utilized,” said Zallek.
Moulton was surprised to hear back from Zallek so quickly.
“I couldn’t believe it. Mankato really is a special place. The community is so connected that it only takes a couple of calls to get something accomplished. We’re fortunate to be here,” said Moulton.