By Susan A. Merkner, IMCOM Public AffairsAugust 10, 2018
When words fail us, maybe another way of expressing ourselves works better, such as paint or clay.
Creative Expressions, a resiliency through art program for youth and adults, has been gradually implemented throughout the U.S. Army Installation Management Command's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation division since 2015.
Michelle Sterkowicz, USAG Vicenza Arts and Crafts Center program manager, is training Child and Youth Services staff in a youth-focused resiliency through art program modeled after a similar program for adults.
"Art gives teens and adults a way to express themselves without talking," Sterkowicz said during the IMCOM G9 CYS World Wide Youth Leadership Forum held June 25-28 in Massachusetts.
During the YLF, Sterkowicz provided materials, such as canvases, paint, collage materials, masks, colored pencils, markers, sculpting clay and more. Youth and adults were free to drop in and work on a creation of their choosing using whatever materials they preferred.
"We're trying to use art as a prevention tool, to help people by offering them a healthy outlet for expressing themselves," Sterkowicz said. "Attempted suicides, depression, and anxiety affect people of all ages, and those issues involve the whole community. By using art as a healthy outlet, it serves as a coping mechanism, helping people to relax and refocus."
The Army operates 22 art centers worldwide, serving children through Child and Youth Services and adults through Community Recreation programs, she said. One of her goals is to create a consistent program of resiliency through art to help Soldiers and community members deal with everyday stress and the unique challenges of military life.
Her work at Vicenza was honored with the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Gold Level System for Health Award in 2017, the first time the award was presented to a non-clinical organization.
"We encourage participants to lose any expectations; there is no end product -- you create for the sake of creativity. By removing expectations, we find people are more apt to dive in," Sterkowicz said.
Having resilient youth supports strong Soldiers, healthy Families and active communities. Soldiers have fewer concerns while performing their duties when they know their children are connected to positive youth development activities.