VICENZA, Italy (April 26, 2018) - Over a dozen Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation art center directors, CYS personnel, and librarians traveled to U.S. Army garrison Italy Vicenza April 16-20, to partner, share best practices and more importantly, create a consistent program of resiliency to help Soldiers and military community members deal with stressors in everyday lives.
This was the third such training event tailored to increase Soldier resiliency and art center program relevance at Army garrisons.
"We all encounter stressors in daily life, but how are we dealing with it? What healthy outlets do we have access to and take advantage of? I would like to see a larger focus on prevention overall, and a Resiliency through Art program fits in perfectly with that," said Michelle Sterkowicz, who is a Supervisory Arts Specialist at the Family and MWR Arts and Crafts Center in Vicenza.
Sterkowicz's "Resiliency through Art Program" at USAG Italy won the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Gold Level System for Health Award last year. It was the first time the award was ever presented to a non-clinical organization. This recognition only motivated her to continue pursuing her goal of helping Soldiers and family members cope with anxiety, depression, anger, while building self-confidence through art programs delivered consistently from garrison to garrison. That's what led to this most recent meeting of art directors and librarians from Army garrisons as far away as Hawaii and Korea.
"Through an OSD grant in 2015, we were able to organize two 'train-the-trainer' workshops at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and Fort Bragg, N.C. The feedback was incredible from Art Center managers and Soldiers who take advantage of the program. U.S. Army Installation Management Command provided funding for two more workshops. We keep the number of participants down to about 12 art directors to make the training more impactful and hands on," said Sterkowicz.
During the training, participants learned more about resiliency through art and how tapping into someone's creativity using clay, paint, pencils and other art techniques to provide a much needed mental escape.
"The most important thing I can take away from this conference is a better understanding of Resiliency through Art. Art has such a powerful meaning and purpose and this showed it to me," said Unu Kim Art Center director for U.S. Army garrison Humphreys, Korea. "Meeting other art directors has been a big help and it will help me when I return home."
Another important part of the week-long program was sharing best practices and the need to partner with other organizations on respective facilities and in surrounding communities. As budgets and resources have become more constrained, FMWR programs getting creative in how they are relevant to today's Army mission. Creativity not only exists on a canvas or potter's wheel but also in the way art centers are being prepared for meeting different readiness challenges.
"Libraries and Child Youth Centers are a great opportunity to partner and fill gaps. Art doesn't have to happen in an art center. You have to be creative about breaking down these barriers," said USAG Stuttgart Art Center Director Clare Reid.
Participants also saw how Sterkowicz delivers the opportunity for young Soldiers to be creative by organizing a social painting class at the Warrior Zone at nearby Del Din, home of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
"Communities gravitate towards parts of the community they frequent such as the Warrior Zone. They might not go to the Art Center for a painting class but they will go to a place they're familiar with. This is the importance of partnering within the organization and the outside community," said Sterkowicz.
The final two days provided participants the time to create an actionable plan that they can return home and implement. An important part of developing plans was learning from other employees' success in their respective programs.
"My program was being threatened with cuts," recalled Kim. "We organized an art exhibit where we invited our senior leaders to come and participate as judges. Through this interaction, leadership got a better appreciation for the work the art center was accomplishing. That changed some of the decisions and helped the program. Get leadership involved with the programs and show its relevancy."
According to Sterkowicz, creating a consistent program from one Army garrison to the next is very important for Soldier and family member readiness.
"Soldiers and family members are finding meaning in our program. It would be great if they were able to transfer to their next duty station and slide into a Resiliency through Art program already in place and pick up where they left off at the last one. Consistent programs such as this would help them make the adjustment to an already stressful situation," said Sterkowicz.
Sterkowicz' will travel to deliver her fourth resiliency through art train-the-trainer workshop at Fort Campbell, Ky, April 30 - May 4.
"The Art Center director there was in my first workshop and she is excited to be the host this time around. The key to resiliency through art is through consistent programs. These workshops are building that," said Sterkowicz.