Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Kindred Spirits: An Integrated Arts Organization

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Kindred Spirits: An Integrated Arts Organization

Article excerpt

I remember watching the evening news while my fragile infant slept in my arms, lulled by the rhythm of the rocking chair. The featured story was about three young schoolboys. One was challenged with disabilities and used a wheelchair. The other two were non-disabled classmates who attacked the boy in his wheelchair, puncturing the child's bladder and putting him in the hospital.

So what does this story have to do with Kindred Spirits. Everything.

I've been an artist my whole life and an educator for all of my adult life. When my sister, Renee, who has Down syndrome, came to live with me, she joined me in making art. It never occurred to me that taking on the role of caregiver would eliminate my role as an artist.

The birth of my son, Julius, shifted my original plans to give myself sabbatical for a few months then slowly ease back into my contracts with the universities. My new role as a mother of an infant who had encountered oxygen deprivation during his birth gave me a new job to learn as I educated myself on hypoxia, brain function, seizures, quadriplegia, and all the secondary issues that follow.

It was years before I understood the full depth of my son's multiple disabilities. One might think that my relationship with my sister, Renee, might pre-dispose me to "easier" acceptance for my position as a mother of a child with special needs. Not so. I was angry for a long time, well aware of the social, political, and economic challenges that encompass the world of disabilities.

When a psychologist from the neo-natal medical unit made a follow-up call and asked if he could help, I spat, "Can you cure my son?" "No," he replied. "Then you can't help me," I said. As able as I had been all my life, I didn't have the ability to repair the damage to my son's brain, and none of the experts we met could either. One hundred percent of my focus was on my son. My art would become the lowest priority.

Then one day, while considering the story about the three schoolboys, I remembered my own abilities as an artist and educator. I knew the arts could be healing--emotionally, physically and socially--for our family and for others and pondered the idea of renting a studio where I could work with my son and others. My friend and previous co-worker, Jean Irwin, from the Utah Arts Council was ready to help. She encouraged me to establish a non-profit organization. A month later, Kindred Spirits was launched, and as stated in its by-laws, it would support the Children Neurobiological Solutions (CNS) Foundation. No longer did I feel helpless.

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The CNS Foundation was established by Fia Richmond, a mother dedicated to finding a cure for her son and all children with central nervous system disorders. I found solace in knowing that scientists were working to improve the future health of Julius. Kindred Spirits would focus on the present by educating and empowering through the arts.

Kindred Spirits programs are divided into quarterly sessions. The summer session is organized into smaller workshops with lessons that relate to the season. For kite-making, participants learned about the history of kites and how kites were used for fishing and communication. The group had a kite launching at the park. During tire-swings, the class walked (and rolled in their wheelchairs) to a nearby tire shop where they learned how rubber is made and how old tires are recycled. …

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