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Art therapy uncovers homeless talents

 Street Sense (USA) 13 June 2019

Once breakfast is cleared away and the tables are scrubbed, out come the art supplies: a rolling trolley laden with paint, freshly sharpened colored pencils, markers and crayons. This is just another morning at Thrive DC. Art therapy is among the long list of services Thrive DC provides for the city’s homeless and disadvantaged. (659 Words) - By Hannah Traverse

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“The Big Dream,” a painting by Yohonny “Pedro” Galindo, a participant in Thrive D.C.’s art therapy program for the homeless and disadvantaged. Pedro is one of the many members of the Art Group who never had the opportunity to try art before coming to Thrive, but has come to enjoy painting as a relaxing pastime.Painting by Yohonny “Pedro” Galindo.

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Artwork created by members of the Thrive DC Art Group was on display in the Thrive dining room during the week of May 23rd. Photo: Hannah Traverse

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A piece created by Thrive Art Group member Maxine Avyomicole, a former D.C. elementary school art teacher who found herself homeless after needing to retire due to health complications.Painting by Maxine Avyomicole.


"Some people really blossom and make it their own," said Nathan Mishler, volunteer and community resources manager at Thrive. Mishler says Art Group allows him and other staff members to better know some of their shyer clients. "It's just a good way for them to express themselves-any frustrations they may have."

The program started with the guidance of Jessica Girard, an intern at Thrive studying art therapy as a graduate student at George Washington University (GW). With the help of ArtWorks, an advocacy group at GW that provides art workshops for the homeless, Girard was able to obtain supplies for Art Group. In the past, ArtWorks has put pieces from Art Group for sale online, providing a potential source of income for the artists involved.

At Thrive, the majority of members don't want to sell their art. "They're creating art for themselves," said Girard. Each hour-and-a-half session tends to draw six to eight people. Many come from off the streets or from various city shelters. Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 86, represent a wide range of skill; some participants have never had the opportunity to create art, while others consider themselves artists. From May 23 to May 27, however, all who were interested could display their work in the Art Group show in the corner of Thrive DC's dining room.

"We tell people it doesn't matter what their work ends up looking like. What matters is that you put yourself out there and you tried," said Girard. "They feel such a sense of accomplishment."

One of the more experienced members of Art Group is Maxine Avyomicole, known at Thrive as Ms. Maxine. With a B.A. from the University of the District of Columbia in art education and advertising design, Ms. Maxine taught art classes in D.C. public elementary schools for some 30 years before having to retire due to illness.

"Everyone is a creative individual. You know, art is the beginning of everything," said Ms. Maxine. "[Art] takes my mind off my pain, off the daily stuff we have to deal with."

Ms. Maxine cheerfully shows others how to create one of the projects she once taught her students, all the while rattling off the names of her favorite artists, "Salvador Dali, Gauguin, Matisse…"

Tacked up in the art show is a series of paintings titled "The Big Dream." They each carefully depict scenes from a little town surrounded by lush, green mountains. The artist is Yohonny "Pedro" Galindo, an immigrant from Honduras who has lived in America for seven years. Pedro had never painted before coming to Art Group, but his work suggests the skill of someone who has known art his whole life. His profile from the show states that he "likes art because it allows him to relax his mind and focus."

Relaxation seems to be the most appealing aspect of Art Group for many of the participants. One such participant, 49-year-old John Pitt, colored in a sheet of paper with markers while his clothes were drying. "I'm just doodling," said Pitt. "It's just something to pass the time."

Girard will finish her Thrive DC internship soon, but she hopes someone will be around to keep Art Group going. "Everyone can come, everyone can experiment," said Girard. "Art has become really important in the lives of some of these individuals."

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