[Hpn] Molding a new life
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 25 Jun 2001 12:40:24 -0400
Monday, June 25, 2001
USA Today <http://www.usatoday.com>
Molding a new life
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
"Art," says painter David Barranti, "is how you know you are human." The
same creative imagination lets a sinner envision salvation or a homeless
addict picture a future beyond degradation. To nurture that imagination,
Gospel Rescue Missions across the country are now building the fine arts
into their recovery programs, using volunteers who say beauty is as vital as
food, shelter and faith. "We are interested in the fullness of life. When
people become homeless, addicted, discouraged, isolated, they need more than
a meal," says the Rev. Stephen Burger, executive director of the association
of 270 independent missions.
"Every person has two parts: the physical and the metaphysical beyond the
appetites we need to stay alive. What would a church be without music or
art?" says Burger, citing concert programs in Omaha, art classes in Seattle
and Los Angeles, and more. "This is how we express our spirits. Remember, in
the Bible, David danced."
Does this mean a fellow off the streets would rather see ballet than
basketball? You'd be surprised, says Luanne Allgood. Through a program she
designed called "Creative Living," Allgood has taken more than 400 homeless
men in the Miami Rescue Mission to symphony, opera, dance, galleries and
At Atlanta's Union mission, Barranti has taught hundreds of men painting and
sculpture in a four-month class he calls "Self-Expression" because, he says,
"these are men who have lost complete touch with how you express yourself,
who no longer understand how or why you should have a second — or third or
fourth or fifth — chance."
Timmy Turner, 40, a former addict from Covington, Ga., says working in clay
in a sculpture lesson makes perfect sense in the mission's two-year recovery
process. Like all Barranti's students, Turner has graduated from the initial
physical rebuilding stage in a shelter and gone into the Personal
Development Program at The Carpenter's House, one of several divisions in
the Union Rescue Mission program, where he works on rebuilding living
skills. This fall, he will shift to a work and restitution program, New
Start, on his way, he hopes, to resuming his old life repairing truck tires.
"What is the use of clay? To build something you can always change to
something different. While we worked, we talked about how you can always
change to something different, in a minute, in a day. I can look at myself
and thank God for molding me into a new form," says Turner.
On a steamy June afternoon, Turner sculpted a snowman.
"I let them make paper airplanes and let them fly. I remember what it was
like not to be allowed to do that in second grade," Barranti says. "I have
them do poems. They make cards and mail them to their families, so art
becomes a way to reconnect with the world.
"At the beginning of each class, 100% say, 'No, I can't do this.' But 100%
participate before I'm done. This is an ongoing theme. There is no letup in
need. There are 25 seats every week, and they are always filled."
The missions also discovered that many volunteers like Barranti and Allgood
bring more than sandwich-serving talents to the table. They help clients
reconnect to a greater world.
Burger notes, "We're not dealing with 50-plus burned-out alcoholics who will
get a meal and a bed and catch a train the next day. We deal now with local
people who have been within five miles of the mission for a long time. They
will be around a long time to come. If you don't deal with their issues, all
their issues, they will keep coming back."
Allgood, a bassoonist with the Miami Symphony Orchestra, reached the same
conclusion five years ago when she offered to play music for the Miami
Rescue Mission's Christmas service. Someone told her how lovely it was for
the men, most of whom had never even gone to the library when they were
children, much less to a concert.
"I thought to myself, 'I can do that.' I once taught humanities at college
where we had a program to introduce freshmen to the arts. I came back in two
weeks to propose outings to any place where things are beautiful."
Allgood works her arts and business connections to come up with tickets for
10 to 30 men for six outings in a four-month course of weekly "Creative
Living" classes. She also pulls in visiting lecturers such as a trumpeter
who has played the opening fanfare for ABC's Monday Night Football.
Says Allgood: "Every human being needs beauty. Beautiful things help us
aspire. They pull us up. They bring us closer to God. If you have been
living on the street, if you have had a life full of ugly experiences,
beautiful moments will help you do better."
Rescue missions are not alone in seeing the arts as essential. Universities
coast to coast are adding "Great Books" seminars, giving welfare clients and
the working poor the opportunity to hone their minds discussing the
Author Earl Shorris launched the "Great Books"-based prototype course, now
known as the Clemente Course in the Humanities, at Bard College in
Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., in 1995. Now it has spread to more than a dozen
universities, from Florida to Alaska.
For Michael Anthony Grant, an Atlanta Union Mission graduate now working
there as a program assistant, Barranti's class was the first place he
discovered that "I could look at things from more than one dimension."
Grant, 35, particularly recalls a day they each read poems with Barranti's
instruction to "go beyond the words and hear the voice of the person
reading. This is a moment that will never happen the same way again, and we
are privileged to be a part of it. I realized I can't take things for
granted, even the small things. I could see that every day has its gifts.
"Everything we do is art."
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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