FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 26, 2022) -- Given a blank canvas, a paint brush and a palette of colors, a group of Fort Drum spouses weren’t sure if they could create a masterpiece worthy of hanging in their homes. Before attempting a single brush stroke, some said they were feeling a little stress.
And that’s OK, said Nicole Wetzel, Fort Drum Family Advocacy Program (FAP) educator. When the FAP staff developed the “Paint More, Stress Less” workshop, it was designed to help community members learn about stress management in a fun and interactive way.
“Usually, they all start out stressed out and feeling that this is way out of their comfort zone,” Wetzel said. “Then by the end, they are laughing and everyone has this wonderful experience of ‘I can do this.’ We’ve had some spouses say they were terrified about painting at first, but then felt it was exactly what they needed.”
Tom Wojcikowski, Family Advocacy Program (FAP) educator, said that the workshop was incorporated into annual campaigns years ago, such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month and 101 Days of Summer. At first they were only registering couples, but then it branched out to where all members of the Fort Drum community could experience the virtues of painting as a stress reliever.
“Everyone can benefit from the educational piece of stress management,” Wojcikowski said. “But it helps that Nicole is a phenomenal painter herself, so we were able to find a way to make this program work.”
The FAP staff has hosted more than 15 workshops for different 10th Mountain Division (LI) units and organizations in the past 18 months, not including the classes open to the entire community.
“We were trying to find a more creative way get a message across and give people a new experience,” Wetzel said. “And that message is, ‘It’s OK to feel stress, that is normal, and here are some things you can do to manage that.’ We also let them know if they are looking for something more in-depth, and they want to sit down with us to work through some other things, we can do that too.”
As Wetzel guides the group with painting instruction, she waits for a particular moment to occur.
“All of a sudden – and this happens every time – it will get really quiet,” she said. “There’s this calmness throughout the room, and all you hear are the brush strokes. Everyone is just in tune with what they are doing. There’s no longer any stress, it’s just about the painting.”
Wojcikowski said that he usually starts each session asking attendees about the stress they are feeling. For some, it could be a work schedule change, an illness or an upcoming training exercise. Wojcikowski spoke with one spouse who is busy preparing the family’s move to a new duty station.
“They are packing everything up, and they are going to be living in their camper for a while until they move – and all of that is in her head,” he said. “But then when she’s painting, her focus is on that for two hours and not on the move. That’s really the basis of the workshop – giving people a way to refocus their thoughts, and share some techniques to cope with different stressors in their lives.”
Chaplain (Maj.) Charles Cottle, 10th Mountain Division Artillery chaplain, coordinated with the FAP staff for nearly 20 spouses to attend the “Paint More, Stress Less” workshop at the Main Post Chapel on May 24. He said that with the Warfighter exercise approaching, which will put Soldiers into the field for an extended time, they were looking for a way to express appreciation for DIVARTY spouses.
“We do a lot of things for families as a whole, but maybe not enough for just the spouses who are the rock and the nucleus of the Army family,” he said. “This was a great opportunity for our spouses to unwind and relax a little bit. We provided them dinner, childcare and then the workshop where they could learn some great things, and also just connect with other spouses.”
Cottle said that he heard about the class from one of the spouses who had previously attended the workshop.
“This is a great resource we have right on post, and they (FAP) were awesome to work with and willing to partner with us on this,” he said.
The Family Advocacy Program is located at the Soldier and Family Readiness Center, Bldg. 10250 on 4th Armored Division Drive. For more information, call (315) 722-2658 or follow www.facebook.com/FTdrumFAP.