We Care Arts celebrates 30 years
“Changing disabilities into possibilities through art.” That is the mission of We Care Arts (WCA), a local non-profit organization rooted in the belief that art has the power to empower and transform.
Area artist Terry Schalnat originally launched WCA under the umbrella of Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in 1983. Six years later, LSS decided that We Care Arts was no longer part of their vision.
During this bleak period, the art therapy organization nearly collapsed. Impressively, through an unwavering belief in her work and the help of several area churches, Schalnat persevered and established We Care Arts, Inc. on Jan. 1, 1990.
“We Care Arts is so important to so many people,” said Program Coordinator Shari Hignite. “People come to us for a wide variety of reasons. They come to keep from being isolated and alone or because they are unable to work in a regular environment. They come to us to learn new life skills or to heal from trauma. Whatever the reason, we treat them all with kindness and respect. We give these people the tools they need to help themselves.”
We Care Arts celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year. In that time, they’ve expanded from serving four artists to helping nearly 1,300 artists last year alone, their staff has grown from two to 17 and their headquarters moved from a small rec center woodshop to the beautiful Berkeley Center on Wilmington Pike.
I had the opportunity to speak with Hignite and We Care Arts Executive Director Terry Schalnat about the past, present and future of the long-loved area non-profit.
How have you grown over the past 30 years?
Currently we teach in 35 different locations. We go to nine area schools – three come to us – and 10 nursing care facilities. There are about 125 adults in our in-house classes. In addition, 58 youth and young adults come to our Art Café evening and Saturday classes. – Shari Hignite
Was there originally a focused vision for We Care Arts, or did it unfold over time?
The original focus was to serve the unemployed and the underemployed in a cottage industry. People would be taught how to do art and then they could take the pieces home and work on them there, bringing finished pieces back for sale. The people who came to WCA were the chronically unemployed: the mentally ill, the developmentally ill, the people who had acquired a physical disability from a head trauma, etc. The need for a place for these lost people became very evident as time went on. WCA became a place where people were accepted as they came to us and we taught them to do art and believe in themselves and their God-given talents. – Terry Schalnat
Can you please describe the nature of your services?
We provide a safe and encouraging environment for people to build or rebuild their lives. Art is our tool. When people come to us, they have typically been through a life-changing event and they are looking for something to grasp onto so they can adjust. We give them a new purpose. It is a powerful thing to see them transform themselves. Sometimes it is a gradual change and sometimes it is almost immediate. -SH
What does the future look like for We Care Arts?
We hope to grow to serve more people. We respond the best we can to requests from the community. Of course, this is always tempered with our ability to raise funds. We are expanding our services to outside locations at this time and I think we will continue to do this for a while. -TS
How can the community get involved?
The community can purchase art for the artists at WCA, become volunteers, serve on the board, become sponsors for the artists, sponsor events and make donations. They can also hang artwork in their place of business. -TS
Come to our events! We personally host five events a year and a few others do events on our behalf. -SH
You have a gift shop as well. Can you elaborate on what is available for sale?
All the artwork in the gift shop is made by the client/artists at WCA. There is pottery, jewelry, sewing, fine art paintings, painting on wood, woodworking and much more. All the client/artists receive a portion of the selling price after purchase. -TS
We are about to launch an online gift shop as well and can ship anywhere in the U.S. -SH
Can you please tell our readers about the fundraiser you have coming up?
We have several fundraisers a year and the next fundraiser is the Cookie Walk. People donate homemade cookies to be sold by the pound. Buyers come in, get a box, put on gloves and they proceed in a line past tables and tables of cookies. All proceeds go to WCA. -TS
Is there anything else you would like to add?
WCA makes love happen for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. We not only make artists out of them, we put smiles on their faces and a skip in their walk. We Care Arts cares about the individuals with challenges in our community. We want to make their life a little better. -TS
The We Care Arts Cookie Walk takes place Saturday, Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 3035 Wilmington Pike. Admission is free. For more information, please visit wecarearts.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Leo DeLuca at LeoDeLuca@DaytonCityPaper.com.