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By HERB DONALDSON
Special to The News
For two days in February a few members of HAWC, Healing Arts of Wakulla County, were invited to attend the Arts in Healthcare for Rural Communities Training Program in Franklin County.
Those in attendance from our area were Haydee and Rick Jackley of Ribits Ceramics, Tamara Byrnes of the Wakulla County Senior Center, Gail Campbell, who began as the initial point person for HAWC, and me, representing Palaver Tree Theater.
The goal of the training session was to introduce participants to the broader concept of arts in medicine, and to either inspire, or initiate, health and wellbeing programs in their communities.
Jill Sonke, director of the UF Center for Arts in Medicine, coordinates rural training program initiatives for nine counties throughout Florida.
“It’s a delight,” said Sonke. “I get to learn so much about communities in general. The diversity of each location, their issues and health disparities, along with the way people live and the challenges they face.”
For HAWC, one of those challenges is figuring out what type of community roadmap it wishes to create. In order to do this it must search out what the community itself is lacking. In short, it must target the needs. And like any target, the needs will always be moving.
Obesity, smoking, depression, mental health concerns, diabetes, disease prevention, nutrition, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and all that comes with the aging process – are real issues for many in Wakulla County. Though there are organizations that may address these things individually, their resources are limited.
This causes a great deal of stress to both the caregiver and patient. HAWC looks to position itself as a link between both parties, bridging that disconnect of how services are offered and how care is received.
For a group like HAWC, still in its infancy, such an enterprise could prove to be overwhelming. But, slowly, partnerships are being born. And though HAWC cannot afford to reinvent the wheel, the months since its initial launch event last December have been used to identify and work with potential partners.
Compared to other counties in attendance at the training program, such as Franklin, Immokalee, and Calhoun, Wakulla does not have a hospital or major healthcare facility that allows them to test their efforts in the traditional setting.
“I’m excited by the uniqueness of Wakulla’s situation,” said Jill Sonke, “and the way so many are stepping up and saying ‘we’re concerned about the health of our community members and want to do something to make it better – we want to be involved’.”
Others attending the training spoke of their efforts to build a healthier environment, such as painter and photorealist, Rhonda Long. Originally from Chicago, she currently works as an artist in Immokalee:
“We have a friend in Fort Myers that has an urban garden,” said Rhonda. “They work with the enterprise zone and were recently given five acres of land to create a garden for the community. Collard greens, onions, potatoes. They sell it back to the community and put it in the lunch program at the schools, as a way of sustaining themselves. They even sell their vegetables to restaurants in their area.”
Similar things have been tried in Wakulla, but the running complaint seems to be the poor quality of the soil and lack of consistent produce availability. And though ideas like these may not sound HAWC related, in actuality, they are. For the health and wellbeing of the community is central to the HAWC mission. This is where being “unique” actually comes into play.
In January, HAWC members met after their launch event, and though all were eager to be a part of this groundbreaking possibility, no one knew where to start, or how to fully define the actions to be taken that would bring change about. Hence, the need to attend the training program.
“You guys (Wakulla),” said Jill Sonke, “are finding some innovative ways to use the arts as very simple, basic interventions. And you’re doing it without a healthcare partner. That’s something other communities can learn from. It doesn’t take a healthcare institution to impact the healthcare of a community. People can do that.”
For HAWC to truly take-off in Wakulla, there has to be a community behind it. And though that number is growing, the need for people to come onboard whose job is in the realm of healthcare (physicians, nurses, nutritionists), as well as those groups involved in the development of sustenance programs for the county, remains a strong one.
The Shands Arts in Medicine Program began in the late 80s, and was formally established as a program in the early 90s. In 1996 the Center for Arts in Medicine was developed at UF as an outgrowth of the Shands program, as Jill explained:
“It started with a couple of artists who happened to be clinicians. They realized they were drawing on their artistic practices to maintain their own wellbeing,” she said. “They began inviting artists to work with their patients because they thought if it was working to help their own wellbeing (the clinicians), it might work to enhance the patient’s wellbeing also.”
The program has grown into a very broad endeavor. They have 15 paid professional artists-in-residence, along with an administrative staff that supports those artists.
There are daily arts agendas throughout the week, in almost every discipline. Patients in the hospital have the opportunity to call on an artist, or to work with them at the bedside, or attend a workshop.
Staff members are given opportunity to engage in creative processes that help support and sustain them in the difficult work that they do as caregivers.
The Center at UF provides education to artists looking to work in the health sciences arena, but who also wish to engage the arts in their work. The Center also provides research to better understand the impact of what arts can do in the healthcare realm and why they are effective.
The effect HAWC will have locally remains to be seen. Chances are, it will be unique. It will most definitely be ours.