No one cares how much they complain about their aches and pains. Or whether they can make it on a regular basis. Or if they have any physical limitations that keep them from fully participating.
At Heart & Soul, an arts therapy program for individuals with disabilities or chronic illnesses, the important factors are that they have a place to come together, express themselves creatively and forget about their problems for a while.
"It's a community of people here with similar problems," said Heart & Soul Program Director Jack Thompson. "They really understand one another. It's a place to get away from their problems."
Participant Judy Sullivan adds some detailing to a picture she recently painted as a Christmas gift. She appreciates all the different art supplies available at Heart & Soul that allow for experimentation with different mediums as well as the social aspect of the group.
It's also a proven fact, Thompson said, that creativity has therapeutic value. Artist Marjorie McConnell can attest to that.
"I can't really write, but I can paint," said McConnell, an active Heart & Soul participant with Parkinson's disease whose preferred form of expression is painting portraits. "My mind goes some place else when I'm painting."
Heart & Soul meets every Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of US-23-N and Long Rapids Road. Some weeks as many as 14 show up, while other weeks the numbers range from 6 to 8 participants.
"A lot depends on the health of the people," said Thompson. As the program director for the last 10 years, Thompson enjoyed a 40-year career in commercial art before moving to Northeast Michigan. He makes sure the program's art supplies stay stocked so that participants can try their hand at many different forms of art.
"We have all sorts of things to do from painting in every medium to various crafts," Thompson said. "We try to make it clear here though that talent is not a pre-requisite. People are welcome to come in and use a coloring book and crayons if they like. It's a place to get away from their problems."
The program was started in 1989 by Nan Katzenberger. A creative person by nature, she had witnessed the positive effects that working on art projects had with hospice patients.
"Their pain seemed to disappear as they became absorbed in creating," said Katzenberger, who felt that the creative environment could be beneficial for anyone facing a long-term chronic illness or disability.
A $250 grant from the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan got the program started. The group originally met at Alpena Regional Medical Center, but for many years now has enjoyed an association with the First Presbyterian Church.
Participants are referred to Heart & Soul by various departments at ARMC, physicians, therapists and other health care providers. There is a $1 per class program fee to help defray costs, but funding always remains an issue.
"The grants have dried up, but we've been around for the last 21 years and we'll probably last longer," said long-time participant Vivian Hepburn.
Though Thompson's position as program director is intended to be a paid one, he mostly does it on a volunteer basis. From time to time, Heart & Soul conducts arts and crafts shows featuring their completed work which help to generate money for supplies. Thompson also started a fundraising drive in hopes of attracting 100 people each to make an annual donation of $20.
"Art supplies have gotten more and more expensive over the years," he said. "Everything goes up but the income."
Despite a lacking of funding, the program continues to flourish. A big advantage that participant Judy Sullivan of Ossineke sees with the group is the availability of all the different arts and crafts supplies that allow for experimentation.
"They have the supplies here for you to try all different kinds of mediums," Sullivan said. "You can work on canvas or with mediums that you wouldn't normally have around your home. Another thing is the social aspect of it. It becomes a family."
Anyone is welcome to participate. For more information about the program, contact Thompson at 595-2571.