Art therapy students create mural at Mercy Center for Women

Sixteen Mercyhurst College seniors in Cathlyn Hahn’s art therapy seminar class recently took their paints, brushes and collective talent to the Mercy Center for Women, 1039 E. 27th Street, where they transformed a cement-block wall into an African savannah.

Using warm, soothing colors, they painted a mural of animals grazing at a water hole in the grasslands. The visual experience, they hoped, would be a conversation piece that would generate interaction among clients, families and staff at the center, which provides long-term transitional housing and support services to homeless women with or without children.

Center director Chris Tombaugh said the mural, which fills one wall in a gathering area in the lower level of the center, gives the room an inspiring, new look.

“It’s exotic, it’s soothing; it puts you in a whole different place,” she said. “We call it our Out of Africa Experience.” 

The Mercyhurst seniors each volunteered a minimum of five hours during winter term to complete the service learning project. Students included Margaret Burton, Rebecca Burton, Karen Dudziak, Teresa Finucane, Carolyn Hartwood, Kate Horn, Jennifer Kram, Sarah Lewis, Megan McDonough, Michael O’Brien, Jennifer O’Keefe, Jessica Sessler, Megan Strauman, Rebekah Tompson, Shawn Tubbs, and Melissa Warner. 

In addition to planning and painting the mural, the group also threw a party at the center to dedicate their work. 

This marks the second year Hahn’s art therapy seminar class has done a mural as a service learning project. Last year, students volunteered at the Erie office of Children and Family Services.

The Mercyhurst art therapy program utilizes the creative process as a means to reconcile human emotional conflicts and to foster self-awareness, personal health and growth. Art therapy is a growing field, particularly in the aftermath of 9-11 as it continues to be utilized as a therapeutic tool in helping people deal with their pain through art, Hahn said.

Her students, she added, also benefited from the experience in many ways.

“They learned to work together as a group; they put art therapy to use in a hands-on way; they learned about human service agencies and how they help different populations; and they experienced the pride that comes from doing something for someone else and expecting nothing in return,” she said.

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