Art of therapy heals at training shop

A sense of calm concentration saturates the air at the Augusta Training Shop for the Handicapped. The clients of the center are deeply engrossed in the cards in front of them.

“We’re making Mother’s Day cards,” explained Audrey Murrell, the center’s executive director, as she introduced the budding artists painting floral scenes.

Generally known for its furniture refinishing and repair business, the ATS is implementing a new art therapy program for their work force of employees with varying disabilities, from cerebral palsy to Down Syndrome. A fun change of pace for the residents who come here to sand, stain and weave, the painting classes teach basic ideas about form, color and patience, Murrell said. But it gives to them a form of creative self-expression that transcends their handicaps.

“It gives them an outlet to express themselves in their own way, shape and form, and it’s another way for them to showcase their talents and their abilities, instead of magnifying their disability,” Murrell said.

Some of Murrell’s clients are non-verbal, unable to communicate through speaking. Exploring a non-verbal method of communication, such as painting or drawing, can foster the development of other forms of communication — and, in extreme cases, the reorganization of thought processes.

“It’s giving them confidence in something they didn’t know that they had. We’re bringing out their abilities. And it teaches them responsibility about our environment because we’re painting on recycled cardboard,” Murrell explained.

Kenny Mims is her star pupil. His rooster painting had a folksy realism that attracted a bidding war at the ATS’s annual Derby Day party, where it was on display with a number of other pieces by the clients here.

“It has just been an overwhelming success… just from the way that people respond to it, how beautiful, how creative, that they would like to buy a piece of it,” Murrell said.

But Mims is already an overwhelming success. Almost deaf, he lives at home with his mentally challenged brother, according to Murrell.

“And they take care of themselves. It takes him two hours to get to work. He catches the bus and then transfers… and he lives probably less than five miles away,” she marveled.
Mims has what are called adaptive skills, which are those skills needed to live, work and play in a community. Communication, self-care, social skills, self-direction and work are among the skills that allow some of Murrell’s clients to take care of themselves.

Eventually, the organization hopes to set up a permanent exhibit in their facility, as well as develop a traveling exhibit to museums, galleries and shops. Obviously,one goal is for the work to bring in more revenue for the non-profit to be able to put back into continuing training.

“I would love to put this stuff on the Internet and get people to start commissioning them to paint something for them,” Murrell said. “We rely so much on contributions.”

But Murrell’s ultimate goal is to no longer be the best-kept secret in Augusta.

“We also rely so much on people to utilize our furniture program because that’s what gives these people employment,” she said.

Augusta Training Shop for the Handicapped
1704 Jenkins St.
Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.


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