The art programs for mothers and children living at People’s Emergency Center (PEC) were more active and robust than ever in 2018, providing opportunities for residents to relieve stress, therapeutically work through difficult emotions via art and, just as important, have fun.

In the dedicated art room created in 2017, Homeless Health Initiative (HHI) hosted weekly art classes for mothers on Friday mornings and for kids on Thursdays after school. An average of five mothers attended each class and 10 children participated weekly. A core of five volunteers worked with multiple special guest artists who helped with painting, crafting and doll fashion design.

Volunteers from the St. Luke’s Greek Orthodox Church Women’s Group came to PEC for a craft session and also donated craft supplies and funds for ongoing work. Artists Diana Myers and Patti Scialo came several times to assist with a multimedia project. Cass Green of Mill Creek Arts and Cultural Center held an angel-making workshop. Michael Da Silva, of Spiezle Architectural Group, presented an entrepreneurship class. Keely McClatchy, RN, a CHOP nurse in the Community Nurse Advocacy Fellowship, brought children’s art programming to the PEC summer camp as part of her advocacy project.

Special events with our partners gave the women the chance to display and sell their art work. Some of the events included:

  • (1) St. Luke’s Greek Orthodox Women’s Group two-day Holiday Bazaar in December, where mothers could sell their jewelry, crafts and paintings
  • (2) Philadelphia Parking Day in September, when we set up a display of art, jewelry, knitted items and crafts on Spring Garden Street sidewalk in front of the police station next door to PEC
  • (3) Gratz College Gallery in Elkins Park, Pa., which hosted a six-week display of portraits, photos and reflections from the mothers
  • HomeFront Art Jam in April, a three-week pop up art gallery, where mothers could display their artwork
  • Baltimore Avenue Dollar Stroll in June, a pop-up gallery where mothers could display and sell their work

Collage of HHI art program examples

To ensure that programming was meeting the needs of PEC residents, HHI hosted three Art Advisory Council meetings that brought together all volunteers, community group members, PEC staff and mothers involved in art. And to make sure residents had enough supplies, HHI coordinated four art supplies drives to solicit donations.

Art: A way to heal and reconnect

During her time at People’s Emergency Center (PEC), Jasmine* has been an active participant in HHI programming.

She participated in 15 Women’s Wellness sessions, where she learned how to crochet and relieve stress. She also received answers from CHOP nurses and doctors about her children’s health and development. She taught our volunteers a lot — about the unique challenges of raising a teenage boy in shelter, the impact of depression and anxiety on parenting, and the deep loss felt by parents whose children are adopted by another family.

While participating in the Art Program at PEC, she was able to express some of that pain in her artwork. On Nov. 18, she attended the art exhibition “Homeless, but Not Hopeless,” where her art work was displayed. There were dozens of people who attended, including the HHI team, PEC staff and families, and generous donors and supporters of HHI.

But the most special guest was Jasmine’s daughter, Priscilla*, who has been adopted by another family. Priscilla’s adoptive mother brought her to the art show so Priscilla could witness Jasmine’s accomplishments and share in her joy.

With a quivering chin and tear-filled eyes, Priscilla told her mother how proud she is of her. “This is just another reminder of why we do the work we do and how it impacts families beyond our expectations,” says Melissa Johnson.

*Names changed to protect privacy.