Healing HeARTS on the Road

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By Marianne Weaver

Diana Cercy, co-founder of Healing HeARTS Mobile Art Studio, drew upon lessons learned within her own family to create a nonprofit organization to serve teens throughout the region.

“I raised three daughters, and in their teens, I saw a lot of things: anxiety, depression and bullying,” she said. “I saw how art helped to heal and ground them. Creativity is a tool to help with anxiety.”

Cercy is an expressive artist who has worked with youth and adults for more than a decade as an inspirational art professional and educator. Her passion is to share what she has learned, which led her to lead activities for adults, teens and children in military, scholastic, disadvantaged and natural disaster settings.

It all started a few years ago when she re-connected with a high school classmate, Tracy Hines, who lives in Colorado. “We weren’t close in high school,” said Cercy. “But when we reconnected through Facebook and then at  our reunion, we realized we had some things in common. We started talking about starting a nonprofit.”

Hines has worked in nonprofit business operations for more than 20 years and at one time owned a small do-it-yourself art studio in Colorado. Her biggest joy came from sponsoring groups of developmentally disabled adults into the store after hours and providing them with a fun, safe place to paint at no cost. They tagged another classmate, John Rathnam, president of Rathnam Capital, to join the organizations board

“I was a little surprised when they asked me,” he said. “I understand the benefit of what they are doing and realize there needs to be more of this. As a society, I don’t think we spend a lot of time helping folks with mental or psychological issues. And this is a great way to do it. It introduces them to art, it’s not expensive, and it has a wonderful benefit.”

The Healing HeARTS Mobile Art Studio was launched June 16, 2016. Cercy said Hines handles the business part of the organization—administrative work and securing grants—while she gets out into the Prince William community to work hands-on with clients, mostly teen girls. “Our tagline is ‘Create art, create hope,’” Cercy said.

Setting Up Shop

Today the “mobile” part of the organization is Cercy’s Acura. But she hopes to move into a camper that contains everything she needs to run a workshop.

Healing HeARTS mobile art studio provides all supplies needed for introspective art workshops to enhance self-awareness and self-esteem, and provide coping skills and support for those dealing with grief and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as seniors dealing with dementia. To date, Cercy has conducted vision board workshops for more than 100 teen girls in foster care and group homes, an art journaling workshop for girls in a juvenile detention center, and an art4healing workshop for wounded warriors suffering from PTSD.

Although Cercy has worked with adults, she said her target population is teens ages 12 to 18 who are at risk in Prince William County.

“There are a lot of art studios that offer painting and art camps, but what we do is very different,” said Cercy. “What we do is not about the final product or the piece of art—although that does have its own benefit—but is more about the journey that individuals go through while creating and expressing themselves through the art, which reduces stress, boosts self-esteem and helps you express [feelings]when you can’t find the words.”

Art journaling workshops are a hit among teens, she said. At these workshops, she demonstrates a variety of mixed-media techniques and provides a variety of art journaling prompts from which the participants choose to explore thoughts and feelings in a creative way. The benefits of these workshops include facilitating emotional healing, giving the participants a voice and increasing self-awareness. Recently, she worked with a group of girls at Youth for Tomorrow, a Bristow-based organization that provides a full continuum of residential, educational and outpatient services to children, adolescents and their families.

“Ms. Diana always arrived with her bundle of goodies, and she would spread them all out on the tables. Her students were always active and engaged and happy. She taught the girls to do some of the most awesome projects,” said Vernell Wilks, Youth for Tomorrow mentor/volunteer coordinator. “The students were always glad to see her. They happily engaged in all of the projects that she presented.”

Hope in a Tool Box

In addition to the in-person workshops, the organization has developed the Healing HeARTS Self Care Tool Box Program. The program began in 2017 with boxes being provided to teens graduating from Youth for Tomorrow. Teens leaving the program take with them Healing HeARTS Tool Boxes that they can turn into self-care boxes with items that will help them choose positive ways to deal with the struggles, anxiety and pain as they transition to a new, healthy way of life.

The personalized boxes include all of the materials needed to work on their art journals. Last Christmas, Cercy said her organization donated 10 personalized boxes to Prince William County Social Services for distribution to foster youth. This year the agency has requested 22 boxes. Although the boxes are currently donated, Cercy envisions
selling the boxes as a way to raise funds for the nonprofit.

For more information about Healing HeARTS, visit healingheartsmobileartstudio.org.

Marianne E. Weaver (mweaver@princewilliamliving.com) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University

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