Featured Story – 3rd Place
– by Teri Stein, Bargain Hunter
The members at Advocacy, Choices and Empowerment Inc. have joined in recent efforts to revitalize New Philadelphia with their new Mindful Mosaic program. ACE members have been designing and creating their own mosaics to decorate cement trash cans around the city.
ACE is a consumer-driven agency and caring community whose focus is on peer support, recovery and wellness for people in Tuscarawas and Carroll counties who experience mentalhealth issues. The organization is based in New Philadelphia.
“I wanted to know how we could get involved in a project in our own community,” said Debbie Swaldo, creative director at ACE, who worked with the New Philadelphia Business and Community Association to organize the project. “Our clients come here to help themselves stay well. We do a lot in house to help that happen, but I want them to see that they are part of a bigger community outside of these walls. They need to see that staying well is an ongoing process and they can contribute to society.”
A variety of programs and activities are offered through ACE. “The majority of our groups are based in art therapy, so this project just made sense to us,” said Jamie Chadwick-Walker, program director/ client services at ACE.
The group, Mindful Mosaic, was added to the activity calendar. “Nelson Freed, a volunteer staff member, created the name, and I feel it beautifully describes what it is like when we create these pieces of art,” Chadwick-Walker said.
The project officially kicked off earlier this month when area artist Jon Stucky instructed the members at ACE on how to create mosaics. He spent one morning teaching them the process and then stopped in another time to check on their progress. The mosaics will be used to decorate cement trash cans throughout downtown New Philadelphia.
“They were all really into it. Sometimes people are reluctant to try,” Stucky said. “Once we got started, they just dove in.” The funding for the materials to transform the trash cans into works of art was provided by Don Whittingham of AquaBlue Inc.
Stucky said other groups involved in the project made square tiles. ACE is making round mosaics that will give the cans a different look from the ones that have already been completed. The group has finished 28 mosaics to date.
“I want our clients to feel part of something bigger outside of ACE,” Swaldo said. “I feel it is important for community to see that [people with mental-health issues] are just like anyone else, out and about in our community participating in good things that can benefit the entire community.”
The benefits of volunteering are important to mental-health recovery. “It deters isolation of the individual by getting them out of the house, offers an opportunity to explore interests and skills, connects the individual with others while contributing to a greater goal, and helps fight the stigma of mental illness through sharing stories and experiences with members of the community,” Chadwick-Walker said. The members at ACE create the mosaics themselves. “They are seeing that they are capable, which is all positive, and a positive outlook is something we at ACE stress,” Swaldo said. “We all have different talents and create differently.”
The members enjoy creating something that will become part of the community. “We have had conversations about going for walks to look for their individual pieces after they have been installed,” Chadwick-Walker said. “I get excited when I overhear them encouraging and helping those who are struggling because that is what peer support truly is.”
The group was excited to work with Stucky. “I think Jon is amazing. He has been so helpful right from the start of this project. I feel blessed and look forward to working with him, not only on this project, but hopefully on many more in the future,” Swaldo said.
“We appreciate Jon giving us the opportunity to be a part of this and to be a good neighbor to our friends in the downtown area,” said Todd Little, executive director at ACE. “It’s important for people to hear our name attached to positive endeavors because right now we are the best kept secret in mental health. We want to change that. Everyone knows or is related to someone who lives with a mental-health challenge. It touches every family. Please encourage those folks to come to ACE. We have great people, great experiences.”
ACE activities are designed to make a difference. The organization also provides meals and food to take home through their collaboration with the Dover-New Phila Food Pantry, the Akron-Canton Food Bank, KFC and the Bob Evans restaurants. They also share with the local homeless shelter and the local domestic-violence shelter.
“If you receive treatment somewhere, ACE can help you stay well, better than if you only attend counseling or see your doctor,” Little said. “If you don’t receive treatment, ACE isn’t treatment, but we can help and be supportive and make you feel like you are not alone. Come find out.”
ACE is funded by the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Tuscarawas and Carroll Counties. The members pay dues of $5 per month to help with expenses related to some of the programming and transportation. Proceeds from the sale of cards and wood crafts also help with transportation and trip expenses.
“We are not funded for transportation, so we have to do fundraisers a couple of times a year and seek donations. We always need donations,” Little said. “Any monies we don’t receive from the ADAMHS Board are earmarked to be used for transportation expenses, vehicle maintenance and other expenses that may not have been budgeted for.”
The organization also applies for grants. They plan an ACE annual overnight experience, which has received a grant from Peg’s Foundation, formerly the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation, in Hudson, Ohio for the past several years.
“The service that most of our members talk about all year long is our annual trip,” Little said. “We’ve been to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.; Niagara Falls (USA and Canada); Louisville, Kentucky; and this year for our sixth trip, we are going to Michigan.”
For more information on ACE and the services they provide, visit www.acemhrecovery. org. Cards are available in downtown Dover at New Life Counseling, and all of their creations are available in downtown New Philadelphia at Charmed: Gifts with Meaning.