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Self-Expression Through Art

Self-Expression Through Art

For Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month this March, we’re featuring stories from a few of the people we serve. We believe that with the right set of supports, people with intellectual/developmental disabilities can live in, work in, contribute to, and participate in the community.  

Gracie President, the Director of S:US’ Day Habilitation Program in the Bronx, made a wonderful connection in the community with Tamara Thompson. Tamara is a licensed psychotherapist working in private practice for more than seven years in Manhattan. She is passionate about art, as she studied and practiced it for most of her life since she was a teenager. As her work with her clients deepened, Tamara turned to creating art to manage transformations in her own life and weave it into her psychotherapy practice with clients who wanted an additional healing outlet to express themselves. When Gracie became acquainted with Tamara, she invited her to tour the day hab. This gave Tamara the impetus to introduce art to the adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, which led to monthly art sessions at the Bronx day hab for people supported by S:US along with staff. 

As Tamara shares, “I work with wonderful clients and people every day as a therapist and started to bring art to their therapy as I simultaneously began to experience it as my form of self-care and connecting with others. It became less about what it looked like and more about how I felt when doing it. I began making pieces that were just for myself based on how I was impacted by world events and client experiences, and then shared my pieces with those around me who seemed to appreciate them.”

Each art session at the Bronx day hab is three hours and Tamara provides all of the art supplies. Drawing and painting with acrylics on canvases is used to foster free expression. Tamara is grateful to share her artistic prowess with adults with disabilities and encourages each student to access what is within them, and what inspires them during this time to pour it into their artwork. 

Here are a few individuals who participated:

Darwin is a bilingual 27-year-old Latino man of Honduran descent. Darwin has attended the Bronx day hab for more than five years. He has a very calm personality, loves to joke, is very social, enjoys music, is a great dancer, and loves to play sports. We’re not surprised that he likes to express himself through painting. One of his paintings expresses that Black lives matter, which Darwin named “You see me.”

Janice is a 55-year-old woman who lives on her own. Janice is her greatest advocate and stands up for what she thinks is right. Janice has been attending the Bronx day hab for more than five years. She is often quiet but when she is comfortable with you she is quite the talker. She frequently says, “If you don’t know, now you know.” Janice is proficient at reading, writing and math. Janice loves to express herself with art so she was happy to participate. The name of Janice’s painting is “DREAMS.”

Sy is a 41-year-old man whose family comes from Guyana. Sy is a huge sports fan and once played for the South Bronx Day Hab basketball team. Among his favorite sports teams are Miami Heat (basketball), New York Yankees (baseball), and Dallas Cowboys (football). He says, “my life is my message.” Sy enjoys reggae music and likes to sing Bob Marley songs during karaoke Wednesdays. He’s very friendly and is able to express his wants and needs clearly. He will also warn his peers if he feels they’re overstepping their boundaries. Sy’s painting is inspired by the song he always sings “Could You Be Loved” by Bob Marley: “Don’t let them change you or even rearrange you.”

Shanika is a Direct Support Professional (DSP) and has worked at the Bronx day hab for nearly 20 years. Shanika has a way of making the individuals she works with feel comfortable. The people she supports miss her presence on her days off. Shanika is dedicated, loyal, and an incredible problem-solver. She is a great advocate for verbal and non-verbal individuals. She gets to know them well and learns to communicate through gestures, facial expressions, signing, and speaking so she can communicate their needs and wants. She is great at putting a smile on everyone’s faces. She says, “If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.” She named her painting “peace love and blessing to all.”

We at S:US are grateful to Tamara Thompson for sharing her passion in fostering self-expression through art, and to Gracie and her team!


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