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A tale of three artists, an idea, a book, three churches, and a prison.

It is said that there is strength in the number three. Three points to a triangle, by Leonardo da Vinci’s calculations, can help explain the geometry of earth’s nature, humans, plants, machinery, architecture, the universe. His was an artist’s vision from his physical drawings.

About 10 years ago, three inspired RVA artists: Jamie Wigginton, Cindy Paullin, and art instructor Mark Hierholzer--each on their own journey-- began to brew something that would over time, transform thousands of lives. It began with group conversations about an experience that all three were sharing:

“When I am creating art I feel a sense of peace and well-being, and, I notice that I am not thinking about all the worries I had in my head before I walked in.”

During one Saturday morning art class, Mark was sharing his experience of volunteering at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women through his church when Jamie Wigginton turned to him and said, “have you ever considered taking art classes to these women?”

The question lingered in the air… then Cindy told Jamie and Mark about this wonderful book her children had given her called “Art Heals”, by Shaun McNiff. Then one might say, the lightbulb went off, for all three of these artists.

Mark talked to the correctional center and they said they were very interested in an art class. He agreed to lead the class…. If Jamie and Cindy would go with him. Prison? Do art in prison? Well…. OK… well… YES!

The prison class began and the three artists were joined by another, Stephanie Shanks. Over a few sessions all witnessed the same sense of peace and well-being among the women in the class that they themselves had experienced. And such gratitude! It wasn’t long before their conversation moved to wondering if perhaps, they could share this mindful and peaceful feeling with others as well who, like the women in prison were living behind barriers, in the margins, socially isolated. Without access to this kind of supportive and creative group experience

Today, there are programs for people age 5 to 105 and most are directed to promote well-being and positive mental health for the underserved. We are ten paid staff and over 400 volunteers of all ages, races and talents.

Cindy was a caregiver for her mom Sue, along with the help of her daughter, Lauren for many years. Sue, after a stroke who became disabled by Lewy Body dementia. Cindy asked, do you think we might be able to help people living with dementia, many times considered “not-themselves”, and nearly forgotten by friends and family, and put away?

Research on the computer: Mark’s wife Kathy Hierholzer discovered Opening Minds through Art (OMA), an amazing art program designed specifically for older adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s created by the Scripps Gerontology Center and Miami University of Ohio. But you had to be trained and certified. Cindy, Mark and Kathy, drove to Ohio, paid the cost of a week-long training program and returned newly Certified OMA Facilitators to plant this brilliant and impactful program in Virginia.

How did we start?

A friend asked, “why don’t you start a nonprofit?” Mark said, “are people allowed to do that? What do you do?” Another friend said, “I’ll give you $10,000 once you get your nonprofit status from the IRS.”

It’s amazing what you can do at your computer online. On June 19, 2014 a non-stock corporation was formed and by the middle of October Mark received the official non-profit designation from the IRS.

Oh, and let’s call the nonprofit Art for the Journey! Get it? Art… for peace, solace, well-being, friendship, even healing… for the journey of life. With a mission to “transform lives through art and community!”

And then it began.

Nan Pascal, Director of Special Projects for St. Mary’s Woods Assisted Living Community in Henrico heard about OMA and wanted to learn more.

A friend of Mark’s asked, what if you could provide the art experiences for children?, and another art student, Diane Willson suggested we help a school in the East End of Richmond?, (because many of these children have experienced trauma and are from historically low-income housing).

Barry Moore, a friend and donor, asked Cindy if we could we help veterans living with PTSD,?

Lezlie Hierholzer asked how could we help medical students in a physician self-care course?

A friend of Jamie Wigginton’s asked how could we help children living with Juvenile Diabetes?,

Connie Hom a board member asked how can we help Cancer survivors?, with each question, we began to serve more and more children, adults and older adults though art programming.

Debbie Mickle, a producer for VPM asked, could you help children isolating at home during the pandemic with art, SOL’s and Vocabulary Words, with projects that can be done at home?...and “The Creative Corner” was born, and is now on with Host and Director/Producer Lauren Paullin.

Ten Years Later

Today, there are programs for people age 5 to 105 and most are directed to promote well-being and positive mental health for the underserved. We are ten paid staff and over 400 volunteers of all ages, races and talents.

How did we fund it?

With lots of help from our friends.

Back when we started, we needed art supplies!

We asked Saint Mary’s Catholic Church would they consider helping us, who said yes with a check for $1,000.

In 2014 off we went to prison…Mark (now Board President), Cindy (now CEO), Jamie (now Director of Operations) and Stephanie Shanks (now OMA Project Director,) Lauren Paullin (now Director of Youth Programs) have been joined by other artist volunteers including Board Members, Beverly Perdue Jennings, and Dr. William J. Frable, both award-winning local artists. We continue going to this day…nearly 10 years later, because prison is where Art for the Journey was born.

Compassion and outreach from local churches planted the seeds of generosity.

1. Saint Mary’s Catholic Church continues to help Art for the Journey purchase easels, paints, brushes and canvases for incarcerated women.
2. Soon after going to prison with the art class, Cindy’s church friend suggested we ask Saint Matthias Episcopal Church to support the prison program, and they said yes!, and have generously continued every year to support our mission.
3. Jamie asked Hope Church could they help through their outreach program with Hope Thrift, they said yes!, and donated to our mission.

Since then, Saint Edwards Catholic Church joined as a supporter, and the Presbyterian Women’s group and Ginter Park Presbyterian church, and Gayton Presbyterian church have supported the mission of Art for the Journey.

I wonder if the people of these parishes know how much impact they have made with their outreach? I wish they could see the faces of the children, the veterans, the seniors, the cancer survivors, and women in Recovery and…the ladies at the VCCW. So much joy, peace and well-being interwoven in participants and volunteers who are diverse in ages, socio-economic divides, race and religious backgrounds, with joyful human connection through the generosity of others.

As churches began to help, very generous friends who believed in our mission. People who care about others, the community at large, and believe in the people of Art for the Journey has grown and now includes generous participation by our Board as volunteers. Each friend, and friend of friend, each new contact, and friend of contact, each student, teacher, and friend of students and teachers have woven into the colorful tapestry of this strong agency, now 11 staff…and over 400 volunteers touching thousands of lives through art and community engagement.
Three anonymous and very generous donors who helped us launch. People who are believers in the work of others, to help them create positive impact on the community and even the world at-large, to them we are humbly grateful and honored to steward this funding to do the work and witness first-hand the impact.

Every year, more individuals help fund or provide for the mission hands on. This growth of support is beautiful to witness, and Art for the Journey is honored to steward these funds through the work we do.

We are grateful for so many other partners: the National Endowment for the Arts, The Virginia Commission for the Arts, Culture Works, the Memorial Foundation for Children, The Perdue Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, the REB Foundation, the Community Foundation, Scripps Gerontology Center-Miami University, OH; The Nunnally Foundation, The Dominion Art Stars; George & Effie Seay Foundation, LeadingAge, Virginia, DMAS, CMS, Coordinated Service Management; University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, Partnership for the Future, the Federal Work-study programs -- all of our other community partners and more.

“I feel so blessed to have found this organization, and even more to be a part of it.”
~Dr. Dianne Simons, Lead OMA Trainer

What a wonderful thing to have witnessed - a testament to human-kind, and human kindness. It is exciting to continue this work and nurture, steward, and thank all of the people who support the mission of Art for the Journey to transform lives through art and community. We hope to continue to see the powerful impact people make as the reach out to others through art for years and years to come.