East Suburban Citizen Advocacy's program helps artists with developmental disabilities

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Mary Pat Buraczweski held her hand still as Luke Stynchula carefully traced around it. The pair chatted and shared smiles as Stynchula helped Buraczewski gingerly cut the shape out of the bright green paper.

The art program is one of Buraczewski's favorite activities, especially when she gets to work with her old friend.

“I like making art, especially with Luke. He's fun,” Buraczewski said.

“I love it, personally,” Stynchula, 17, said. “It's amazing to get the thrill of helping them and seeing them create something.”

Buraczewski is one of more than 35 artists with developmental disabilities to take part in East Suburban Citizen Advocacy's monthly “Art from the Heart” program. The group meets on the last Sunday of each month to create artwork that is sold at five locations in the east suburbs. Volunteers work one-on-one with artists to make jewelry, paintings, sketches, cards and other works, said Kate Cala, executive director of the Murrysville-based nonprofit group.

The art program began about a year ago, with less than a dozen participants meeting at Chaye Coffee & Tea in Murrysville. Cala credits the shop's owner, Li Duffus, as being the impetus for the program's success. Her shop, located in Franklin Plaza, features numerous works of art made by the group, ranging from lighted bottles and paintings to gift bags and keychains.

“Li fostered our program and made it a success,” Cala said. “She really believes in us.”

As the group grew to include more and more people, it expanded to meet at Clelien Heights, just outside of Delmont. Earlier this month, the artists took in an art class at the Latrobe Art Center, the newest location where their work will be on display. The students created a banner to promote “Art from the Heart” while volunteers set up a display of crafts they had made previously.

Gabrielle Nastuck, director of the Latrobe Art Center, said adults and children with developmental disabilities reap a lot of benefits from expressing themselves through art.

“It's like therapy for them — they can communicate through their art, and it makes them feel really good,” Nastuck said. “I've seen kids who can't write their name, but give them a paintbrush, and they're ready to go.”

Her center displays and sells art by people from all walks of life, Nastuck said. Adding work from “Art from the Heart” made sense, she said.

As Nastuck explained the day's art project to the 15 or so “Art from the Heart” students, her enthusiasm was infectious. With smiles and determined looks, the room quieted as the artists focused on getting their contributions just right.

That scene is replicated each month when the whole group meets, Cala said.

“When we bring them boxes of materials, they don't even ask questions — they're so engrossed in creating,” Cala said. “You see their self-esteem go through the roof. They realize they're an artist.”

“Art from the Heart” is a break from typical advocacy work for Cala. East Suburban Citizen Advocacy works as a group of advocates for people with developmental disabilities — meaning Cala and her volunteers can spend their days doing everything from helping people in crisis situations to advocating for students with special needs.

“We speak for those who can't always speak for themselves,” Cala said. “A lot of the people with disabilities that we deal with don't have natural supports in place. That's what we provide.”

And on some days, that support is as simple as helping someone paint butterflies or string beads.

“What we're doing here is creating a more inclusive community and celebrating the talents of everybody,” Cala said. “It's amazing to watch.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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