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The healing power of art

I started to choked up a little as I listened to my co-worker talk about art.

Suzi Humbert, was telling me about the art program at River Street Shelter and passionate doesn’t even begin to describe her. She called the work transformational for her clients and she really believed it. I could hear it in her voice and see it in her eyes. She has seen art change the lives of those who come to the shelter. She has been transformed by art herself.

Suzi Humbert

As we stand together in a small, sunlight filled room surrounded by stacks of paintings Suzi talks about this work as if it’s part of her calling in life. We should all be so lucky to find that perfect mix of professional and personal passions that set our souls on fire. Suzi has and her joy from work is as bright and warm as the sun on this November day.

As on-call and day program supervisor at our homeless shelter she does a bit of everything and perhaps her favorite part is the art therapy program. The program brings together the shelter’s current resident’s for about an hour. The invitation is open to all and it’s a free flowing format allowing people to do as much or as little as they like. There gather around a large table, turn off the TV and begin the session usually with a theme, such “grounded” or “moonlight,” along with a demonstration of the medium to be used for the session.

Back to today…there are paint brushes, crayons, and traces of pastels everywhere. Things I have seen before at art supply stores or maybe in a classroom. This afternoon I looked at those objects with new eyes. They are all tools to heal people and bring them together.

I’ve never been an artist myself, probably too critical to let anything but writing flow naturally. So I am even more amazed at how in a single session someone facing one of life’s greatest challenges can create such beautiful pieces of art. You would think life and all of it’s heartache would have leave people feeling like they have nothing left to give themselves. It’s actually the opposite. Each sheet of paper holding an imprint of that person. A permanent piece, something tangible during a transient time. Suzi seems to remember each person and their painting too. Perhaps not by name but by story. She is hopeful when she describes her clients. She is genuinely kind and gracious when they pop into the office to share with her a bit of good news or ask for a little help.

Suzi and my other co-workers at River Street Shelter probably gave me what I needed most after reflecting on the last few weeks. They restored my faith in ways no online commentary ever could. To believe in change you have to see it in the flesh sometimes.