[Hpn] Molding a new life

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Mon, 25 Jun 2001 12:40:24 -0400


-------Forwarded article-------

Monday, June 25, 2001
USA Today <http://www.usatoday.com>
Life section
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 
nature walks.

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."


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-------End of forward-------

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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