So much of what we do is about reaching people. We are often the last resort for many, meeting them at the bottom, after they’ve lost their jobs, their homes, their families, and their freedom. By the time they get to us, they are angry and afraid and in a lot of pain. Before we can truly help them and they can begin a journey toward healing, we have to figure out how to get inside, to break through the hard exterior and get to the reality of what’s going. Our socialization groups are one of the tools we have to get there.
We run weekly art, music, and writing groups and all of our clients are invited to participate. What goes on in these groups is nothing short of miraculous. It’s been proven over and over that art provides a powerful alternative, non-verbal way for people to express their feelings and explore their motivations, fears, and dreams. This program has allowed the staff at CHOICE to reach clients previously thought unreachable. “It’s an amazing thing to watch someone walk into a room, full of fear and anxiety, sit down at a table and start to draw or paint or collage, then all of a sudden, they are able to express things they’ve never been able to before,” said Choice Executive Director Guy Fessenden.
The universal language of the visual arts provides a forum through which people can self-reflect, grow, communicate, and even form supportive social connections. It helps give them a place in the world they can call their own. Sarah Saracoga runs the art program for CHOICE and has seen so many incredible success stories. “I’ve seen people who have completely turned their lives around, utilize the art group as their jumping off point. We don’t only do art. We give people a safe space to express themselves, indulge their creativity, and even to socialize in a non-threatening environment that encourages them to be themselves.”
One client said, “When I first came to CHOICE, I was closed up. I thought my life was over and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Then Sarah got me to look inside myself. My mom used to draw a lot with me, and my brother was a sculptor before he was killed by a police officer. I didn’t think I had this in me, but through drawing, I was able to start communicating how I felt about things. And now I come to the group and sometimes I paint, and sometimes I just sit and observe and learn from the other people around me. Art has kind of brought me back as a person.”
An Art Program that Gives Back
The art program has also been validating for so many of the CHOICE clients. For two years in a row, client art was featured at an art event, “Expressions,” hosted by internationally renowned 3D pop artist Charles Fazzino. Many of the artworks sold to collectors, with half of the money raised being donated to CHOICE and the other half being given directly to the client. For some, it was the first money they had legitimately made in their entire lives.
“Art has been a powerful tool in my own life,” said Charles Fazzino from his New Rochelle Art Studio. “I’m not sure where I would be without it. It’s an outlet for so many people and a means to communicate, process, and grow… to see the world in a different way and hopefully in a brighter light. CHOICE has incorporated art into their crucial mission of helping others and that’s very gratifying for me.”
This year, CHOICE artists will participate in a group art show with clients from Rockland Psychiatric Center hosted by Arts Westchester and sponsored by Westchester County and Charles Fazzino. The Exhibition is titled, VISIONS 2015: INSPIRATION, REFLECTION, AND HOPE and features over 150 works created by artists receiving mental health services. The exhibition will run from September 10th through the 17th with an opening reception on the 10th from 5:30-7:00. Consider joining us there to see some of the most inspiring and thought-provoking artwork you have ever experienced.