"This is by someone who is basically non-functioning. He doesn't speak; he doesn't really communicate," says Dorothy Matusic, as she points to an abstract print of blues and yellows. "But put a paint brush in his hand, and he comes alive."
Doesn't that bring a smile? Doesn't that feel good? How would you feel if you knew you were making a difference in someone's life? It can happen - all year, but especially as this "season of giving" gets a running start. Better yet, giving that gives back has health benefits. Best of all, there are options for simultaneous giving and supporting in your local community.
Matusic is the manager of The New Corner Store and has similar stories about many of the artists the shop represents. Much of the art in the St. Clairsville shop is created by the art therapy group at Tomorrow's Corner, an adult day support service and the shop's parent organization. According to Matusic, there are 10 to 15 artists represented from ages 19 to over 80. Some create individual pieces, and others contribute to group projects, like large, colorful flowers made from recycled bottles or multi-media pieces assembled by local freelance artists.
Works for sale by MITCH Collective artists celebrate the Ohio Valley, and the proceeds fund supplies and equipment for new class offerings open to the community.
Lisa Kazmirski, founder and co-owner of Tomorrow's Corner, says the idea for a store/gallery developed when people began asking to buy the client art on the office walls. Their art therapist had some of the pieces made into note cards, and they decided to go bigger. Most of the items are unique to The New Corner Store: flip flops, magnets and note cards featuring their art; jewelry; wreaths; book marks and gift tags; small sculptures. They will take custom orders for wreaths (with favorite sports teams, colors or seasons), wooden alphabet letters and canvases.
The New Corner Store also carries items made by the developmentally disabled from award-winning Passion Works Studios in Athens, Ohio. Kazmirski adds that other area agencies are contacting them to place their clients' artwork in the store as well.
"I'm happy to work with other agencies," she says. "Right now our space is limited, but we are trying to accommodate everyone. It would be nice to find a large space that we could all share."
Kazmirski and Matusic say that having the store and paying royalties to these "outsider" artists has given Tomorrow's Corner clients a sense of purpose and note that many in the program have "gone from isolation to empowerment."
Pamela McCort, of the Belmont County Board for Developmental Disabilities, notes that their agency shops at The New Corner Store for corporate gifts and even commissions custom works. Kelly Cappelletti, owner of Kelly's Suite II in St. Clairsville, regularly donates outdated fabric samples and wallpaper books to the program to be re-purposed into flowers, gift tags and multi-media projects.
Proceeds from sales go back into the art therapy program for supplies and sometimes to special client activities or recognition events like pizza parties.
"There's nothing more rewarding that being able to do more for the developmentally disabled community and help break down the stigma," Kazmirski states.
A few miles west, clients at TEAM Consulting, a vocational rehabilitation and adult day service provider, assemble gift baskets for sale through fund-raisers and at their Bethesda facility. They are preparing a site at www.etsy.com for online sales.
"We don't do piecework," says TEAM CEO Karen Fisher. "We create jobs and pay hourly wages."
According to Beth Wilson, TEAM program manager, 22 developmentally disabled clients in Belmont and Guernsey Counties make aromatherapy items like candles and sachets and package essential oils, incense and incense burners. They also create natural, organic bath and body products such as soaps and lotions for purchase separately or in gift sets. Other favorite products include hand-blended teas and bulk herbs.
Wilson adds that sales of the items gives their clients a sense of purpose and accomplishment and keeps them employed. Revenue cycles back into supplies for new orders as well as educational and fun outings for the clients. She notes that a recent school fund-raiser sold more than expected, so the work flow has been steady.
At the MITCH Collective, on the opposite side of Belmont County in Martins Ferry, Siena Baldi puts finishing touch-ups on silk screens done by visiting high school students the day before. The school field trip is just one thread that the new organization is weaving with the community at large.
"Our biggest thing is classes and workshops right now," says Baldi, who is the third generation of her family to inhabit the large Victorian house overlooking the town. "We want to teach people new skills or crafts, and they can use those skills to make things or provide services for other people."
Some of the classes include screen printing, re-upholstery and book binding and have a slant towards recycling and sustainability. November offerings include Kanzashi flowers (a fabric origami technique for making flowers to add to headbands or clothing); stained glass; making natural soap and other health and beauty products.
There is a community garden that neighborhood families and Collective members tended and used this summer. Collective artists work with the Children's Museum of Wheeling and have a grant for another youth project in 2013.
Artists at the MITCH Collective also create items for sale at the house and through www.mitchcollective.org and www.etsy.com. Tote bags, postcards, frameable prints and posters and pillows generally relate to Ohio and the local area and cost under $20. They've also done commissioned wedding invitations, cards, business cards and one-color t-shirts and usually need three to five weeks per project, according to Baldi. They will be offering gift cards this holiday season that can be used for merchandise or classes.
"Right now, 100 percent of the proceeds go back into the organization," Baldi explains. "The money is used to purchase equipment and supplies for classes to keep costs for the classes low." The Collective recently got its 501 (c) 3 designation, so donations are eligible for tax deductions.
Gifts from these agencies obviously benefit their clients, programming and causes, but what does socially conscious giving do for the giver? Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer for the Cleveland Clinic and award-winning author, says that charity really does begin at home when even the smallest kindness to another person can release endorphins in the brain similar to a "runner's high" but lasting much longer.
While just thinking about helping others is beneficial, studies show that helping others can positively affect the immune system, decrease stress, relieve pain and improve emotional health. Giving is good for the physical heart as well as "charitable heart attack patients" show speedier recoveries than those who are not as generous. Volunteers seem to have death rates two and one-half times lower than those who do not volunteer, according to another study Roizen cites.
He notes the consideration of giving with the possibility of the receiver being able to pass the favor on to someone else when he or she is able. People often don't want to feel "like charity cases" even though they need assistance. If there is an opportunity for them to continue a chain of giving, a larger community benefits through the ripple effect. He adds that giving makes one do something that is bigger than one's self - it's not about money, but belief.
The New Corner Store is located at 152 St. Patrick's Alley and is open Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be participating in St. Clairsville's Downtown Shopping Night on Nov. 24 from 3 to 8 p.m., a "Relay for Life" event on Nov. 27 at Tomorrow's Corner and the St. Clairsville Red Devils "Breakfast with Santa" on Dec. 1. For more information call (740) 695-1110.
The MITCH Collective is open by appointment or during class times and is located at 501 N. 7th St. in Martins Ferry. Contact Siena Baldi at firstname.lastname@example.org or (740) 278-3011. For class and workshop schedules visit www.mitchcollective.org. They will have a table at the Stifel Holiday Art Show and Sale from Nov. 15 to Dec. 28.
For other giving choices visit www.ec-ohio.com , a listing of environmentally friendly businesses and their websites that create products in Ohio (i.e. bee farms, clothing, household items). For a global gift, visit www.heifer.org where Heifer International, started by an Indiana farmer, has provided means of food and financial sustenance to12.5 million families in 125 countries since World War II.