Jun 13, 2010

Mural 2: Henry Street Settlement

Project No. 2
June - July 2010
Henry Street Settlement
334 Henry Street
New York, NY  10002

Today I met with Wendy who works with Henry Street Settlement's seniors in the LES.  The meeting was much anticipated by both of us since I had managed to get lost and wander around the projects for 45 minutes during our last scheduled meeting.  

"We're so happy you chose us," she said warmly as I sat down on a bench in front of her desk.  The twinkle in her eye suggested she was also happy I had finally followed the signs to my correct destination without any more blonde mistakes. I was too, though due to the office's location in the cinder block basement of the building it was no wonder I had had trouble.  My initial troubles, however, paled in comparison to the frustrations that Wendy faced with low funding for building repair and paint peeling off unattractive pipes.  Councilmen and women had approved money for the cause, but between the bureaucratic technicalities it had already been three years since the money was supposed to come their way.  Artists had been contacted to spruce up the place; but with their high rates, Henry Street had to bypass them.  Along came me.

Wendy flipped through the mural book I brought along to start generating ideas.  "The seniors get forgotten; they know it, and they feel it," Wendy said frankly. "Around Christmas time everyone wants to work with kids, especially the younger volunteers."  Wendy and I were at least two exceptions.  I hope there are more.  We got up to begin the building tour.

"Buenos dias!" Wendy waved to a table of ladies in the dining room. "Buenos dias!" they waved back.  Gentlemen playing pool in the background saluted with their pool sticks and toothy (or decidedly untoothy) smiles. 

"The residents have been here most of their lives," Wendy said.  "They've come from Puerto Rico or China, raised families, grew old, lost friends and spouses, and now are here.  This is it for them.  Their friends in this building are everything they have...that, and their memories.  Most of them are in the early stages of Alzheimer's.  They have no idea what they did ten minutes ago, but they can really talk about the past."

Ah! This was a situation I knew well from being with my Grandmother - now much further in the grips of dementia.  I hadn't known what to do for her then, but at least I could do something for these delightful people.  I could give them a piece of their past.  Wendy agreed to ask the residents where they were from in Puerto Rico and China.  I hope a beautiful Puerto Rican harbor or Chinese landscape will remind them that someone cares about where they came from and what they bring to us.  

The first project will be sprucing up the bathroom:

Next will be an overhaul of the dining room to make it feel less basement-like.

After that, we'll tackle the computer room or gym.

In conclusion for today, thank you, Wendy for all the work you do and for choosing me!  Most of the residents will forget me, but everyday a mural of mine will be there to greet them.  If my paintings can give them a smile or two more, make their social space a little brighter, or link them one last time to their past, then it will have been a job well and happily done.

1 comment:

  1. EXCELLENT! Can't wait for more pics! I would go for bright and light rather than super saturated color, just cuz the space seems low-lit and a little small..
    cool beans gurl