09 August 2008

Creative Hands therapy benefits those with limited mobility

Art meets medicine in a unique form of vocational therapy that employees of Avenues adult vocational rehabilitation program in Pottville are learning.

Through the Creative Hands pottery program, which began last month, employees are learning a new skill that also has therapeutic benefits, said Denise Keitsock, the program supervisor at Lessie’s Greenhouse and Gift Shop, a supervised vocational rehabilitation workshop for individuals who are physically and/or mentally challenged.

Working with the pliable clay increases and improves strength, flexibility and dexterity, which is particularly beneficial for those who may have limited or impaired mobility or stiffness in their fingers, hands and upper body, Keitsock said.

“It’s also a real good way to build confidence and self-esteem, and a sense of achievement,” she said. “The pottery workshop is one of the many things Avenues employees are learning which will help them seek employment in the competitive work force.”

Approximately 30 adults work in the supervised workshop, which is located in the Avenues building at 2 Park St., Agricultural Park, Pottsville.

Mary Byrne, owner of the Mad Potter, Pottsville, helped the group get started by donating the use of her kiln to fire the molded pieces.

“When I first heard about it, I thought it was an excellent idea,” she said. “Working with clay is very calming, very relaxing; I have customers all the time who tell me that it’s their form of therapy. And it does give a real sense of accomplishment. You’re taking a piece of mud, and turning it into something useful, like a coffee mug or a plate, a bowl. It’s a creative outlet.”

Using their hands to press and shape the clay, the employees design the brown stoneware into ashtrays, bowls, birdfeeders, plates and other functional items.

“Every piece is as unique as each individual,” Keitsock said.

They’re called pinch pots because they’re created by pinching the clay, she said.

Employees in the pottery workshop work on their projects in the activity room, and when the pieces are finished, they’re delivered to Byrne’s shop at 6 S. Centre St., where she fires them in her kiln. The finished work is then sold in the Avenues gift shop.

Many of the employees in the pottery workshop also work in the carpentry and greenhouse occupational therapy program at Avenues.

The greenhouse is named after Lessie Weaver, the late daughter of Mal Weaver Bartram, a founding member of United Cerebral Palsy of Schuylkill, Carbon and Northumberland counties.

The agency was founded as UCP in 1952 by a group of parents, and now serves the diverse needs of people with cerebral palsy as well as many different disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism and pervasive developmental disorder.

When the name was changed to Avenues in 2004, the UCP Greenhouse was renamed as a tribute to Bartram’s daughter, who suffered from cerebral palsy.

In the greenhouse program, Avenues employees learn all types of planting skills, working with greenhouse supervisors and program specialists.

They grow seasonal flowers that they sell to the public during seasonal community sales, as well as balloon bouquets, gift baskets, seasonal items, dried arrangements and other creative items.

In the Trash to Treasures carpentry program employees take apart, refinish and paint old donated items, and transform them into decorative and functional household objects like coat-racks, plant stands, shelves, furniture, bookcases, tables and picture frames.

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