Thirty years is a remarkable amount of time. In a culture where TV shows are cancelled almost as soon as they begin, and businesses rise and fall with the latest trend, commanding longevity in an ever-changing world means you know how to leverage good fortune, anticipate change, and strategize for the future.
Celebrating their 30-year anniversary, We Care Arts, a Kettering non-profit that teaches art to people with disabilities, has succeeding in doing just that, and their place in the artistic and special needs communities continues to blossom.
“What we do here is very important to a lot of people,” explained Shari Hignite, the program coordinator for We Care Arts. “Without us, many of our clients have nowhere else to go. Many of them have tried other agencies or methods to help them, but they have not had any success. Art is a powerful tool, and our programs help them in ways that nothing else will.”
In 2012 alone, We Care Arts served about 900 clients across four counties in more than a dozen creative fields including woodworking, painting, knitting, sewing, and jewelry making. These are awe-inspiring statistics, considering how they modestly began in a closet attached to the Rose E. Miller Recreation Center’s wood shop to accommodate two clients (one of which was taught by We Care Arts’ executive director, Terry Schalnat).
Flash forward three decades. We Care Arts experienced a rapid-fire expansion that included adding a gift shop, changing locations, and developing nearly two dozen outreach programs to aid as many demographics as possible. And they are still expanding. “We’ve been at our Wilmington Pike location for nine years, and it’s amazing how we are already busting at the seams,” said Brenda Thieman, We Care Arts’ bookkeeper.
During We Care Arts’ 30 years, the staff has witnessed radical transformations–mentally, emotionally, and spiritually–in many of their clients from their newfound sense of pride and self-worth.
“We have had so many people come through our doors broken, in mind and spirit,” mentioned Hignite. “They come to us at their lowest low; at the beginning of the rebuilding process. We provide them with advice, encouragement, and the tools to start moving upward. Many of our clients have gone on to college, gotten jobs, started families, mended fences, left their abusers, and improved their lives.”
Considering the outpouring of inspirational stories, it’s no wonder that We Care Arts is celebrated by the citizens of Dayton.
“I think if we can continue to provide the community with a safe place for people, then we have met our goals,” offered Hignite. “What we do here is very important to so many individuals, yet it is really simple. We are kind. We are supportive, encouraging, loving, and caring. It is amazing what people can do when given the right tools and a little encouragement.”
Hignite mentioned that We Care Arts has several new programs in the works. They currently teach one class at each school they serve, but they have been asked to do more, in addition to piloting initiatives at other schools. They are also thinking about creating more programs for nursing homes.
To supply their massive reach, We Care Arts is always in need of donations, both monetary and in-kind, and they also rely upon the dedication of sundry volunteers who help in-class, serve on committees, man the gift shop, and organize fundraisers in tandem to a variety of other duties. But one of the best ways to contribute to this organization takes very little time.
“What I hope for the most is that more people become aware of us and visit our gift shop,” mentioned Hignite. “When people purchase something made by our clients, it lifts them more than anything else. It is a validation that they are worth something.”
The gift shop certainly has something for everyone and every budget, offering paintings, comic books, household items, coffee mugs, baby blankets, cards, painted wine glasses, and more. They also strive to offer a wide array of seasonal items, especially for Mother’s Day and Christmas, which are some of their busiest times in-store.
In talking with the We Care Arts’ staff, their passion for their vocation is evident, and it is certainly one of the driving forces behind We Care Arts’ success.
“This is the first job I have ever had that I love getting up to go to,” exclaimed Thieman. “Even when I have a bad day, I can take a minute to just visit with a client, and my spirits are lifted.”
Echoing the comments of Thieman, Bruce Rill, a tenured instructor at We Care Arts, offered these parting words:
“Art has great value in the lives of all human beings, no matter where they are in life,” he explained. “We are blessed to use our gifts, all the while learning from others.”
We Care Arts will have their Garden Party fundraiser on Saturday, May 4th. For more information about their programs and upcoming events, visit www.wecarearts.org or call 252-3937. We Care Arts is located at 3035 Wilmington Pike, Kettering, OH, 45429. Their gift shop is open Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
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