When kids with autism, Asperger’s and Down syndrome get too old for high school, the next big challenge is how to build an independent life. That’s what the Plano non-profit My Possibilities specializes in. The center is taking an artful approach.
Instructor Casey Parrott walks around his classroom checking out his students’ work. Some are busy sketching. Others are painting on white canvases — everything from chapels and airplanes to mermaids and nature’s wonders.
Audrey, 25, is busy painting a rainbow.
“We’ve got a lot of red,” Parrott points out. “We’ve gotta work on some more yellows.
“Yeah,” Audrey responds.
“Where’s orange?” Parrott asks. “Let me see your brush. Let me go get a cleaner one.”
Audrey agrees. Parrott then shows Audrey how to add some orange to her rainbow.
Five and a half years ago, this program was merely an idea, notes on a Starbuck’s napkin. A group of moms got together to figure out how best to educate their children who had aged out of public schools. They needed a place where adults with autism, Down syndrome and other learning disabilities could go. It began with 12 clients and has grown to 135 adults, who call themselves HIPsters, which stands for…
“Hugely important person. That is the center of what we do,” says Elizabeth Romo, resource development manager at My Possibilities. “We are all about them and what they need and how to make their life better.”
Students here range in age from 18 to 70. Romo says every one of them takes their nickname to heart.
“We have HIPster shirts. ‘I’m a HIPster,’ ‘Helping a HIPster,’ and they are very prideful of their name,” she says.
There’s even a HIPStore where their artwork is sold — necklaces, bracelets, paintings and scented candles. The HIPsters learn to stock shelves, interact with customers and they get 50 percent of the sales. The other half goes to the art program.
The store’s part of the job skills program. Parrott says they want students to feel good about themselves when they find a job and start earning a paycheck.
“And that’s kind of built over to the art program,” Parrott says. “We want them to be full artists, meaning we want them to sell what they make so they feel some pride and the recognition of their work.”
My Possibilities launched the art program, called Create, two and a half years ago. Beside drawing and painting, students can learn about digital art, photography, drama and sculpture. Next week, they’ll learn to dance.
Mason Owings, who’s 23, has been part of the center a year and a half. He says the experience there has helped him work on his behavioral issues. So much so, he was hired.
“They offered me more opportunities here to work here,” he says. “I just got hired to be part-time on staff in the mornings from 8 to 11.”
Parrott says Owings has come out of his shell and flourished in his new role, which is the goal for these students.
“We really want them to be independent, be their own person,” he says.
Like his peers at My Possibilities, Owings is learning that the possibilities just might be endless.
More than a hundred artists have teamed up for this weekend’s 9th Art Con, which raises money for local art groups. This year, the proceeds will go toward My Possibilities’ Create program. To learn more, visit ArtandSeek.org.