Through Our Eyes art contest helps others see artistic ability of difference

Special display, voting run Monday through Friday at Main Library

COLORING SESSION — PALS participants Christine Frattini, left, and Brenda Risdon color drawings completed by students from Indian Creek, Steubenville and Toronto for the Through Our Eyes Art Contest being held by the Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities in conjunction with PALS and the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County. The public may view the artwork from Monday through Friday and vote at the Main Library at 407 S. Fourth St., Steubenville, or on JCBDD’s Facebook page.) -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — Area schoolchildren and people with developmental disabilities are finding a connection with the Through Our Eyes Art Contest.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and the Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the PALS Chrysalis Health community program, the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County and local schools are teaming up for the second-annual event.

This year’s theme is “Connected,” and students in grades three through eight from Steubenville, Indian Creek and Toronto are collaborating on designs with PALS participants which will be displayed at the Main Library, 407 S. Fourth St., Steubenville, from Monday through Friday. The community will have a chance to vote on their favorite renderings, and winners will receive recognition for their work.

Cookie West, JCBDD employment and community navigator, said the art contest seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all areas of life and the barriers they still face in connecting to their communities in a meaningful way.

Wells Academy and McKinley STEM Academy were involved last year with Wells named the overall winner; Toronto Elementary and Indian Creek Middle School are both first-time participants.

Each school has two teams with four students apiece, and each team created a one-of-a-kind painting that depicts the connection of people with and without disabilities.

The students and their PALS friends met to determine a unified design, with each student involved in drawing the design and PALS members painting or adding to the creation.

The pieces will be displayed at the Main Library and judged by a panel of community friends.

Awards will be given for top and second choice at each grade level as well as overall choice and community choice.

The community can join in the fun and cast their vote by visiting the library or voting online on JCBDD’s Facebook page.

The collaboration, however, means so much more than creating artwork, according to West.

“That is the beauty that can be created in a community,” West said. “When we are intentional, the art contest has been such a wonderful building block. Children have a unique way of reshaping culture for the better. People with disabilities love every aspect of their community, whether it’s being in school, work, church, eating in a restaurant, being at a sporting event or shopping. We will be able to see unique ways the teams see their community.”

Priscilla Ofca, an art teacher at Wells Academy, said her teams spoke to PALS members for inspiration.

“They were so intrigued. Our kids have a love for people with special needs and they are very thoughtful and want to help. They were very in tune with them and interested in what their lives are like.”

McKinley STEM Academy Principal Deana Beall said her students gained understanding.

“I discussed that there were people who are different but have abilities. The kids loved the interaction, and they loved to be part of it.”

ICMS art teacher Renee Brothers said her pupils also gained some new perspective.

“They enjoyed working on a project for the community. It did enhance their awareness of how they see and feel being in the community.”

“They loved it,” said Toronto Elementary Assistant Principal Lori Rawson of her students. “They enjoyed working with students on different grade levels and integrating with the PALS community.”

PALS Program Director Amanda Muscari agreed that the program benefits PALS members and school students alike.

“Through Our Eyes is a great opportunity for them to get together and many children don’t interact a lot with people with intellectual disabilities. The theme is connection and community interaction, how people are being integrated in the community whether they have a disability or not,” Muscari added. “It has been very positive.”

Jennifer Cesta, public relations coordinator for the library system, said the library was proud to again play host for the art display. She said PLSJ became involved when West asked the site to be part of the activity, and the public also enjoyed being part of it.

“The community enjoyed looking at the beautiful artwork created and being able to vote on their favorite piece. They let us know it’s a pleasant surprise to see the art as they browse the shelves looking for books. Library staff enjoyed it just as much and voted, too,” she commented.

“From time to time we have schools and organizations display their art. It’s enjoyable for us all and to know that we are displaying art to bring awareness to Developmental Disabilities Month is even more special and meaningful. As patrons come in, we encourage them to look and vote,” Cesta added.


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