At New Perceptions doors open to the arts

When you walk through the doorway of Room 227 at New Perceptions in Edgewood, you step into a world of possibilities.

Paintings, sketches, sculptures and other works of art line shelves, sit on tables and are propped along walls. Canvases, clay, wire and art supplies of every kind fill cabinets, drawers and other shelves. It’s a colorful, inspiring room, busy but not cluttered.

This is the home of Art Abilities – where imagination reigns and creative magic happens.

On a recent Tuesday morning, Erick Winburn dipped a brush into pale blue and green paints. He leaned over a sculpture and dabbed the paint onto clay that he and his buddy and fellow artist Billy Bach had pinched and placed to represent water. Driftwood and rocks Winburn had collected sat amid the clay water. Perched on the driftwood was a fisherman he had fashioned out of wire and spray painted.

Finding ways to use diverse materials is one of the reasons Winburn likes the Art Abilities program. “It challenges me,” he said. The wire can be hard to work with, but “it’s worth it in the end.”

His inspiration? “I like to fish, myself, and I just thought it’d look cool to make.”

The 16 artists who work here, all adults with developmental disabilities, are a busy bunch. They paint, sculpt and sketch for the world outside their doorway.

“We have lots of hands going,” instructor Peg Kendall said while showing me around the studio. “We always have the mind-set to have pieces in the community.”

Eric Winburn_Art Abilities
Erick Winburn’s fondness for fishing inspired the work-in-progress he sits beside in the Art Abilities classroom at New Perceptions.

Winburn’s sculpture, for instance, will be on display at the New Perceptions Annual Dinner on Aug. 23 at Receptions in Erlanger. Each artist “has a goal to be in the community themselves,” Kendall said, “so having their work in the community is an extension of that.”

Kendall’s enthusiasm for her students is apparent as she talks about them and their work. “They are the most motivated and creative people,” she said. The program doesn’t follow a curriculum. Instead the artists decide what they’re going to learn. “It comes from the heart,” Kendall said, “and it comes from them.”

With pride Kendall ticks off the community events the artists are preparing for. For the annual dinner, Kendall plans to display 25 to 30 pieces, enough to represent as many of the artists as possible. Currently eight pieces from the studio are entered in a show at Art Beyond Boundaries, a gallery on Main Street in Cincinnati that showcases and sells the works of local and regional artists with disabilities. On Aug. 5, that show will end and a new show will begin with, Kendall hopes, seven or eight pieces from her studio.

“They are the most motivated and creative people.”

The artists also will show their works at Art in the Park in Bellevue on Sept. 10. At Art on the Levee in Newport, visitors can find wire sculptures, similar to Winburn’s fisherman, for sale throughout the year.

Wire sculpture is a favorite among the artists, Kendall said. The studio started producing the sculptures about five years ago after researching and finding that no one else in the area was creating them, she said. The sculptures require fencing wire, rebar wire or “whatever we can lay our hands on.”

The artists, sometimes collaborating on the same sculpture, twist the wire into figures – a wire ball for the head and wire columns for the trunk, arms and legs – and then give them a job to do. Three wire figures, for example, appear to be rappelling on the wall outside the Art Abilities door.

pottery wheel
Tim Adams creates a piece at the pottery wheel.

In addition to paintings and sketches, program participants also work on tile mosaics, ceramics and engravings in glass and wood. Thanks to a recent grant from the Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation, the studio has added a pottery wheel and airbrushing equipment.

“We very much try to cater to their interests, even if it’s Pittsburgh Steelers junk,” Kendall said loud enough to get a reaction from Winburn and Bach, both fans of that other football team from that other city.

It’s all good-natured ribbing. A sense of camaraderie spreads easily through the room like paint on canvas.

“I love it,” Bach said when asked his opinion of the art program. He enjoys being in the studio, making friends and “being around that woman right there,” he said, pointing to Kendall.

Billy
Billy Bach recently finished this canvas painting. His next project will be a painting of Batman.

Bach recently finished a collage-type painting, and for his next project, he’ll paint Batman to fulfill a request from a customer. The studio occasionally gets requests for work, which encourages the artists, said Kendall, who is also the assistant manager of The Learning Center at New Perceptions.

When an artist sells work, half of the money goes to the artist and half to the Art Abilities program. Often the artists donate their half back to the program by using it to buy supplies, Kendall said. “They can see the difference they’re making.”

In addition to visual arts, Art Abilities also teaches sign language and music, including drums, piano and guitar. “Art Abilities is an all-day party,” Kendall said.

After visiting this all-day party, images of the artwork and the people have stayed with me. For some reason, though, one surprising image keeps coming to mind – the doorway to the Art Abilities room. Maybe it has stayed with me because it seemed so open and welcoming. Maybe I think of it because it stands in contrast to the many closed doors people with disabilities may encounter. The students who walk through this doorway have other doors opened to them – doors to creativity, to relationships with fellow artists, to the larger community. Open doors. Open hearts. Art Abilities.

The Art Abilities program is offered to adults 21 and older with a developmental disability. The potential participants also must have a Medicaid waiver. For more information and program availability, please contact Marlayna Cooney at mcooney@newperceptions.org.

Top photo: A variety of works by Art Abilities students are displayed at the 2015 New Perceptions Annual Dinner.

Photos provided by New Perceptions.

About New Perceptions

I’d heard of the organization for years but wasn’t sure about what it offered. Development Director Emily Prabell broke it down for me with the following brief history and overview:

New Perceptions was founded by a group of concerned parents in 1952 to offer services that were scarce in the community at that time for children with special needs. Thanks to parents who wanted the best for their children, individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities receive opportunities for education, growth and employment in a normalized setting to help each person reach his or her maximum potential.

Our Children Services program offers home-based and on-campus specialized therapeutic intervention – occupational, physical, and/or speech – for a variety of developmental needs. An eight-week summer program, Bridging the Gap, offers unique small-group therapy with a focus on sensory movement, social communication and therapeutic school-readiness.

Services for adults include Supported Employment, The Work Center and The Learning Center. Supported Employment offers in-depth, one-on-one support from employment specialists. Participants learn job skills, how to get a job, and techniques to cooperate with coworkers and supervisors to best succeed on the job.

The Work Center provides employment at the New Perceptions campus in parts assembly, kit assembly, collating, bagging, labeling, rework and packaging jobs for small items. Participants learn diverse work skills and increase independent functioning skills.

The Learning Center, new in January 2015, offers adult participants educational opportunities in three supportive settings. The Adult Learning Classroom offers structured learning in topics such as comprehensive reading, life skills reading, life skills math, cooking, health and current events. Adult Day is a relaxed setting for individuals who need greater one-on-one support in learning life skills. Activities are planned and led by staff throughout the day. Art Abilities is open to students who want to learn skills and/or express themselves through art such as sketching, water color, wire design, guitar, piano and sign language.

For more information about New Perceptions, visit its website at www.newperceptions.org. You can also learn the latest on its Facebook page.

 

The Great Bambinos

Young baseball players in blue jerseys and caps sat on the aluminum stands in the Saturday morning sun at Lincoln Woods Park in Florence. After a huddle in the infield that ended with the collective shout of “Team!” the players had just walked off the field of the season’s final game.

Parents, relatives and friends clapped and cheered as Coach Greg Ashcraft stood before the stands and called each player by name. Ashcraft tried to say a bit about the players, maybe how long they’d been in the league or how much they’d improved, as he presented trophies to celebrate a season well-played. Cameras snapped and players beamed as they shared their trophies with their fans.

The scene seemed familiar enough for this time of year. But each player on this team has special needs that might prevent him or her from playing on a traditional baseball team. So they came to play here — Bambino Buddy-Ball.

*

The faces. When I think of the Bambinos, I think of faces full of joy. Bright eyes and big smiles when players catch a ball or connect for a solid hit. I think of faces strong with determination. The intent and focus when players dart for first, kick up dirt as they round the bases, and bound onto home plate to punctuate their score.

This spring marked the fourth season in our area for Bambino Buddy-Ball, a division of Northern Kentucky Baseball. It was the fourth season to experience the excitement of America’s pastime and to learn what it means to belong to a team. The fourth season to play the game with joyful determination.

My daughter has played Buddy-Ball for two seasons, so I’ve watched a game or two. The faces of fellow fans are something to see too – full of excitement, pride and hope. All these great expressions on all these faces caused me to wonder about the league. What’s its past? What’s its future?

To find out, I talked with Ashcraft. One of the lucky people who turned his love of sports into his vocation, Ashcraft makes his living training and coaching youth athletes in the area. For NKB, Ashcraft is a utility player. He plays administrator, sitting on the organization’s board of directors and overseeing the Bambinos. He plays coach, guiding Bambino players during Saturday morning games. And he plays baseball dad, cheering on daughter Grace, one of the Bambinos.

Bambino Buddy-Ball gets its name from one of the many nicknames of legendary baseball player George Herman “Babe” Ruth. It was established in 2000 by the national Babe Ruth League, with which NKB is affiliated. The young Northern Kentucky division has been in a building phase. Word is spreading, the division is growing, and this season, Ashcraft said, 55 players wore the Bambino patch on their uniform.

Pawsat Pro Photo
Team photo by Pawsat Pro Photo.

It takes a community

Marketing is a key to growing the Buddy-Ball division, said Ashcraft, who came on board two years ago. Through his involvement in the community, Ashcraft spreads the word about the Bambinos in an effort to reach new players and find corporate support and sponsors. A Step Ahead Pediatric Therapy sponsors the Bambinos, helping NKB to offer Buddy-Ball at no cost to its players.

Ashcraft relies on a lot of people for help. “I couldn’t do it without volunteers,” he said.

Other NKB teams come out to the Bambino fields each week to help as buddies and coaches.  The volunteers signed up with enthusiasm this season, Ashcraft said, noting that when he sent out a volunteer list with open spots, it got filled immediately. Each Saturday, 20 to 24 volunteers were needed.

A Saturday morning during the Buddy-Ball season is a family affair for the Ashcrafts. Along with Greg and 12-year-old Grace, daughter Hayley, 20, and son Grant, 10, put on their blue shirts and head out to the field. Hayley coaches the younger Bambinos with her dad, and Grant helps as a buddy. Wife Kym watches from the stands.

Baseball binds the family together, Hayley said. “We’re all going to be there, no matter what.”

For the Bambinos, “having fun is all that really matters.”

Hayley told me she’s worked a lot with children with special needs throughout her life, including volunteering with Special Olympics swimming. That work seemed a good fit for the former high school swimmer, but because she wasn’t a baseball player, she wasn’t so sure about coaching when she started last year. “My dad just kind of roped me into it,” she said.

She found herself at ease soon enough. She saw the energy the players had and how excited they were. “It changed my life,” she said. For the Bambinos, “having fun is all that really matters.”

Looking to the future, one particular challenge for the program is limited facilities. The Bambinos play on dirt fields, which can be uneven and difficult for players with walkers and wheelchairs or other mobility issues. There are other leagues for ballplayers with special needs, such as the Miracle League in Cincinnati, that play on synthetic turf. Ashcraft would like to see those kinds of fields on this side of the river for the growing special needs population in Northern Kentucky.

Along those lines, Ashcraft continues to appeal to the community and corporations for support.  “We want to continue to make it grow,” he said. “We can make it successful here.”

 A love of the game

It may be an odd question when we live in the Cincinnati Reds backyard, but I asked anyway: Why baseball?

“They feel like they’re a part of something,” Ashcraft said of the players. “The experience to get out on a field … and just have that moment to be in the limelight.” It’s an amazing experience, he said, and he hopes the players learn, that even more than winning, “it’s about going out there loving the game.”

In Bambino Buddy-Ball, everyone hits, everyone fields, no one sits out and no one gets out. The players might warm up and work on skills before being divided into teams to take turns at bat and in the field. This season the division played on two fields – one for younger players who hit off a tee, and one for older players hitting machine pitches and off a tee.

Bambinos range in age from 4 to 18, though exceptions may be made, and they are placed on teams according to their age and skills. Buddies help according to need. Some players want a buddy next to them at all times, even running the bases with them. Other players are more independent, but generally everyone gets paired with a buddy in the field. If parents aren’t sure which team is best for their children, Ashcraft evaluates their skills and places them where they will grow as players and have fun.

My daughter certainly enjoys being a Bambino. Anna, 17, said she feels proud and excited to play baseball, especially because she’s following in the footsteps of an older brother. “We get to catch and stuff and we bat,” she told me the morning of the season’s last game after I asked to interview her. “When I bat I have to try to hit it hard and quickly. Sometimes I miss and sometimes I don’t miss and I run to the bases when I hit.”

She also likes being on the field with the volunteers. “There was the Red Dragons that helped us,” she said. “I have a couple of people that are boys that run with me.”

high fives
Bambinos line up to shake hands with their buddies after Saturday’s game. Photo by Susan Cline Photography.

Missie and Don Lunnemann appreciate the interaction with peers that their 12-year-old gets while playing Buddy-Ball. “Jake loves working with the other kids,” Missie said as she stood with her husband near the field before the game. The buddies benefit from the experience too, she said, because they get to know the players, see their abilities and talk baseball with them.

Jake has become more social over the past couple of years, Missie said, and Buddy-Ball has helped. Don agreed, adding, “Experiencing a typical athletic sport is very good for him as well.” The couple also praised Ashcraft. “I appreciate Greg’s dedication,” Don said.

Ashcraft champions baseball’s ability to instill confidence and increase independence. He works hard, he said, to encourage independence among the players and their parents. For some parents, this is the first time to turn their child over to someone else, to sit back and watch. For the players, baseball creates memories of accomplishment that they can rely on to bolster confidence in other areas of their lives, he said.

Ashcraft’s most memorable moments on the field swirl around the expressions on the players’ faces and the heart that they bring to the game. He takes joy in their joy when they hold and swing a bat by themselves, when they experience the success of hitting the ball. He enjoys watching them in the field, even when they’re playing in the dirt.

For all of us who love children, it’s an amazing privilege to watch a child grow. Ashcraft said he’s rewarded with that each week during baseball season. And then there’s the impact on the parents. Parents have told him, “I never knew my child could do that.” These are the home-run moments of the job.

*

As Saturday’s trophy presentation came to a close, Ashcraft encouraged the players to keep practicing and working hard. He told them to invite others they meet to come out to play with them in the spring. The players climbed down from the stands and prepared to leave the ballpark. No one seemed concerned about wins and losses, outs or hits. They just seemed happy to have had a chance to put on a uniform and play baseball.

Babe Ruth once said, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from coming up to bat.” As for the players leaving the field on Saturday, they are all great Bambinos.

 

Find out more

Go to Northern Kentucky Baseball at nkbaseball.com for more information on its Bambino Buddy-Ball division or contact Greg Ashcraft at gashcraft86@gmail.com.

 

Credit: Top photo by Susan Cline Photography.

Theater invites guests to ‘feel free to be you’

AMC logo

When Max and Duke romp onto the big screen in The Secret Life of Pets this weekend, a Northern Kentucky movie theater will turn the lights up and the sound down so some special patrons can watch the dogs’ animated antics in comfort.

The accommodations are part of Sensory Friendly Films at AMC Newport on the Levee 20. The film series, offered by AMC Theatres in partnership with the Autism Society, invites guests with autism and other special needs to “feel free to be you.”

The screenings offer a more relaxed atmosphere for moviegoers, said Kevin Coffman, a supervisor at the Levee theater. If viewers like to get up, walk around or make noises, that’s all OK. The audience is more understanding, he said. Guests also are welcome to bring their own snacks.

The theater shows Sensory Friendly Films on the second and fourth Saturday and Tuesday of each month. The Saturday shows begin at 10 a.m. – that’s when you can catch The Secret Life of Pets this weekend.

The Tuesday shows begin at 7 p.m. and were added last summer for guests looking for more mature films, said Ryan Noonan, AMC’s director of corporate communications. Originally focused on families and children, the film series expanded to meet more needs, Noonan said. “We’ve seen kids grow up now.”

The movies for each month are selected by AMC’s film department according to demographics and popularity. Almost half of AMC’s theaters offer Sensory Friendly Films, Noonan said. A check of their website showed 175 participating theaters. The Newport on the Levee location was the only one listed in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area.

Coffman, the local theater supervisor, said moviegoers at the Levee have told him they appreciate the opportunity to view films in the modified environment. Crowds vary depending on the movie, he said. An average crowd may be 20 to 30 people, while a long-awaited movie like Finding Dory might attract as many as 50 to 100, he said.

Saturday morning movies cost $5.61. Tuesday evening tickets sell for $11.12.  Guests can get their Levee parking tickets validated at a booth near the movie ticket office so that they pay $1.25 to park.

Backstory

In 2007, a Maryland mother asked her local AMC Theatres manager to arrange a special screening for children on the autism spectrum after she’d had a bad experience with her young daughter at another movie theater. The manager agreed, the mother talked it up, and so many people showed up for the movie that the auditorium couldn’t hold them all, according to autism-society.org.

The manager added more movies and contacted AMC headquarters with the idea. The Autism Society partnered with AMC, and the film series grew to include theaters across the country. You can read more about it on the Autism Society’s website here.

Summer lineup of Sensory Friendly Films

  • Saturday, July 9: The Secret Life of Pets
  • Tuesday, July 12: BFG
  • Saturday, July 23: Ice Age: Collision Course
  • Tuesday, July 26:  Ghostbusters
  • Tuesday, August 9: Suicide Squad
  • Saturday, August 13 and 27: Pete’s Dragon
  • Tuesday, August 23: War Dogs

Check the AMC Theatres website for current Sensory Friendly Films here.

Have you attended a Sensory Friendly Film? Would you like to share your experience? If so, please leave a comment. Thank you!

Governor’s Scholars host dance

UPDATE: THE DANCE HAS BEEN CANCELED DUE TO LACK OF RESPONSE.

If your idea of a good night is music, dancing, food and friends, mark July 23 on your calendar. That’s the night people with special needs will be treated to a summer dance at Northern Kentucky University hosted by students in the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program.

Special guests’ families, friends and partners also are invited to the dance, which will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the auxiliary gym of the Campus Recreation Center.

GSP Healthcare class
Governor’s scholars in Teresa Hoffmann’s healthcare class participate in an activity symbolizing that everyone is connected as a community. The class will host a dance for people with special needs on July 23.

The dance will bring people of differing abilities together to celebrate community, said organizer Teresa Hoffmann, a faculty member in the Governor’s Scholars Program. “They are all participants in just a joyful evening.”

Hoffmann’s healthcare class of 20 students will be “elegant hosts,” she said. The students will show guests to tables, provide light refreshments of water and fruit, invite guests to dance and serve any other needs they may have. Other faculty members and resident assistants also will be on hand to help.

The dance isn’t a formal. No special attire is required. Hoffmann said she envisions a casual party where folks go to dance, listen to music or feel the music’s vibrations. She wants to offer an activity that includes people who may often feel isolated.

‘They are all participants in just a joyful evening.’

The Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program is a highly competitive five-week summer residential program for rising high school seniors in the state. Established in 1983, the program aims to “enhance Kentucky’s next generation of civic and economic leaders,” according to its website. Colleges compete to host the scholars for three-year cycles. NKU, Morehead State University and Murray State University were selected as hosts for 2016 to 2018. This summer, 354 of the scholars are studying at NKU, Hoffmann said.

The program’s curriculum often includes service learning. Along those lines, Hoffmann’s healthcare students volunteer at the Given Campus of Stepping Stones near Cincinnati. The non-profit organization provides programs for children and adults with disabilities. It works to “increase independence, improve lives and promote inclusion,” according to its mission statement.

Through their volunteer work, Hoffmann’s students are learning to interact and communicate with people in different ways. They are learning patience, she said, and compassion. Her students have told her that their work at Stepping Stones is humbling because they are meeting people who live with extraordinary difficulties yet have happy, positive attitudes.

The dance will celebrate the relationships and connections formed at Stepping Stones and include the larger community in the fun, said Hoffmann, who organized similar dances in Louisville while working with the Governor’s Scholars Program in the past.

If you would like to attend, please call the NKU Governor’s Scholars Program office at 859-448-8820 by July 20 with the number in your party. Minors must be accompanied by an adult.

 You’re invited …

Event: a summer dance for people with special needs and their families, friends and partners

Date: July 23

Time: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Place: Northern Kentucky University, auxiliary gym in the Campus Recreation Center

Cost: free

Parking: free in the Kenton Drive Parking Garage

RSVP: by July 20 to 859-448-8820 with the number of people in your party. Minors must be accompanied by an adult.

For a campus map, click here.