Art of Rancho program creates hope and possibilities

DOWNEY - The Spirit of Rancho, embodied in the incredible artworks of more than 40 graduate artists from Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, was on display last Thursday and Friday as the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation presented the 15th Annual Art of Rancho Exhibition at the world-renowned hospital."The works of these tremendous artists shows us that no matter how badly our bodies are battered are broken, there is always hope that we can do something great," said Rancho's Chief of Pediatrics, Luis Montes, MD. More than 750 guests jammed Rancho's Support Services Annex on Thursday night for the opening reception, with hundreds of Rancho inpatients, outpatients and staff members attending the exhibition on Friday. "The hundreds of magnificent artworks our graduate artists display each year showcase the limitless possibilities that exist for our patients with disabling illnesses and injuries, said Rancho CEO Jorge Orozco. For the first time in the history of the program, a participant in the Don Knabe Pediatrics Art Program created the painting that was selected for the cover of the Art of Rancho book and calendar. Zinthia Alvarado's spectacular "Bella Unique" is this year's cover artwork. "I was born in Los Angeles, but when I was 7 years old, I moved to El Salvador with my mother," she said. "Soon I was in a terrible accident. "I was sitting in the front seat without a seat belt when our car was hit by a bus." Zinthia suffered a major spinal cord injury and was diagnosed with paraplegia. "Many years later, I returned to Los Angeles and since then, Rancho has become my home away from home," she said. After having surgery, Zinthia was sent to Rancho for rehabilitation. "I was an inpatient for two months for treatment for scoliosis, and I am now a Rancho outpatient." Rancho has played a key role in restoring hope for this talented young woman. "I love Rancho, because it is a place of magic for me and many of my friends who have also had great experiences here," Zinthia said. "My friends in the adolescent support group are always there for me. The KnowBarriers program taught me how to set and reach goals. And the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program is truly amazing. "I not only learned how to paint and take interesting photographs-I learned how to express myself in ways I could have never imagined," she said. Now she has become a key contributor to the Art of Rancho program. "I have become a living example of the magic of Rancho," she said. Zinthia's friend Deisy Mendez, who also attends the adolescent support group and participates the Pediatric Arts program, showed several new works at the show. "I was born on October 20, 1984 in Tabasco, Mexico," Deisy said. "I had a normal life until March 31, 2005, when I was involved in a terrible car accident and suffered a spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed from the neck down." She was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center for therapy. "With the help of Rancho's doctors, therapists, nurses and my family, I began a new way of life," she said. "I was worried and sad. I asked myself, 'What could I do for a profession?' Would I ever be able to work and be independent?" She found the answer in the world of art. "Thanks to the Don Knabe Pediatric Art program and my instructors Robert and Kathy Thome, Steve Clay, Ruben Rios and Manuel Lugo, I learned to express myself through my artwork. Now I have been accepted as a member of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. "My God and my art are my inspiration. They are what keep me living. And thanks to Rancho, I have the opportunity to share my art with the world!" Thursday's night's program featured remarks from Supervisor Don Knabe and Rancho graduate artist Will York. "As I walked down the red carpet and into this magnificent collection of artists and artworks, I realized how far these patients have come, and how far the Art of Rancho program has progressed over the last 15 years," Supervisor Knabe said. He has attended each of the Art of Rancho exhibitions and has built friendships with many of the artists over the years. "When you see the work of world-famous Rancho artists like Robert Thome, Steve Clay, Ruben Rios and Annie Ruth, and you see that talent and creativity being passed down to the next generation in Zinthia and Deisy and Will York and our newest artist, Rocio Villalobos, you realize what a vital impact Rancho has on the lives of its patients. But more than that, you see the hope for a better future that these artists give us through their art. I salute each and every one of the Art of Rancho participants for their truly inspiring work." Will York displayed three breathtaking 4-foot by 8-foot paintings at the show. He has come a long way since a mountain biking accident in nearly a decade ago left him with a major spinal cord injury. "Everyone at Rancho told me that I could do every activity I did before, with some adaptations," Will said. "They were right. I've snow-skied, ridden hand cycles and rolled through the woods in my chair. "One activity that doesn't take a lot of adaptation for me is painting," he said. "I'm thankful for the annual Art of Rancho exhibitions, which have inspired me to pick up my painting supplies and put some ideas on paper or canvas." During his 34 years prior to his accident, Will pushed his body to compete in races, climb mountains, and do a lot of his favorite kind of work-hard labor. "Now, constant pain is more debilitating than paralysis, but it has caused me to ask a lot of tough questions about life, love, God and the meaning of everything," he said. "My new life goal is to push my mind to study life's deepest questions and then write about them, and that requires a lot of time," Will added. "Inspired by the Art of Rancho, I do fine art to see immediate results." This year, Rocio Villalobos was so successful in the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program that she was selected to participate in the Art of Rancho Exhibition. "After suffering a major spinal cord injury from a gunshot wound when I was just eight years old, I thought I would be a prisoner of a wheelchair for life," she said. "But when I was 18 I hasd spinal fusion surgery and then was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos, where my life was changed forever. "Rancho is the place where many amazing people took care of me, and made me realize this wasn't a story about a sad girl with a geography of scars, trapped in a wheelchair and wasting her life trying to find explanations," Rocio said. "This is about a girl who could find infinite beauty in anything, any little thing...a girl who could even love the person she had become." Thanks to the Rancho Wheelchair Sports program Rocio again became the active girl she once was. "Now I play basketball and at every practice I feel so thankful to be alive," she said. "By participating in the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program, I found that painting is a place where I can give form to all my feelings, which run together like the colors of a watercolor painting left out in the rain," Rocio said. "I want to use my life like a canvas and paint every detail with my soul. Because of Rancho, I'm following my dreams and having a beautiful life!"

********** Published: November 11, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 30