Kids build confidence through art

DOWNEY - The 2011 edition of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center's Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program concluded last Wednesday as participants painted their final class project and were honored during an awards reception at the world-renowned rehabilitation hospital.This year the visual arts class had 24 participants, the most in the history of the program. The participants ranged in age from 7 to 26 years old. Their medical diagnoses included Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Traumatic Brain Injury, Spinal Cord Injury, Stroke and Multiple Sclerosis. "Many of the participants had never painted before," said Rancho Occupational Therapist and Program Coordinator Jennifer Bashar. "They and their parents were amazed at their newfound talent." Rancho CEO and noted artist Jorge Orozco acknowledged the vast potential of the young artists. "The instructors have helped each of these outstanding young people tap into their artistic vision and produce their own masterpieces," he said. Program participant Jonathan Alvarenga explained how the Pediatric Arts experience opened up new worlds for him: "When I first came to Rancho with a major spinal cord injury, I didn't see myself as an artist, but my instructors and therapists helped me discover an exciting new vision for myself and my life. Now I see art and music as important keys to unlocking my future." Instructor and illustrious Rancho artist Robert Thome said, "Jonathan is one of several extremely talented artists in this class. From his first painting, his talent and artistic courage came flying off the paper. In my view, he has a big future as an artist." Robert's fellow instructors included his wife Kathy, Steve Clay, Manuel Lugo and Ruben Rios. "We are delighted by how this program helps young people with disabilities get outside themselves and relate to the world around them in new and imaginative ways," Ruben said. "In every class, we have seen the light go on for the kids we're teaching, For some, it's a momentary insight…and for others, their artistic spirit has been touched forever." The Rancho Pediatric Arts Program was created by Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe and is funded through the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation. "When you watch these young people paint, you see how meaningful this experience becomes," Knabe said. "You can almost see the wheels turning, the creativity flowing, and the self-esteem growing." Many participants had siblings or friends painting next to them. "I love how the class removes barriers and levels the playing field between participants and their siblings as they learn to explore and express their artistic talents together," Jennifer said. She teamed with fellow Occupational and Recreation therapists Julie Helgren, Dina Ochoa and Lori Rowley to work with the young artists. Jennifer said that one of her favorite projects was developed by a 7-year-old who recently suffered a spinal cord injury and learned how to paint using a mouthstick at Rancho. "He was determined to make his mother a pretty picture for her birthday, and he was bursting with pride when he was able to surprise her with the finished painting," she said. Rancho Director of Volunteer Services Debbie Tomlinson said, "When the kids get a chance to work with instructors like Robert, Ruben, Manuel and Steve who have overcome their own disabling conditions to become tremendous artists, it has a very powerful impact on them. I have seen kids who were very subdued and anti-social make a 180-degree turn and even serve as role models to inspire others." One of the program's unforgettable experiences was a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where participants, instructors, parents and siblings were treated to a private, docent-led tour of the celebrated Tim Burton exhibit at LACMA. "The outing opened up a whole different side of the art world," Jennifer said. "Everyone loved it!" Then she put the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program into perspective. "The program is only the beginning of what the clinicians and instructors hope will be a successful journey as an artist for program participants. Each year we discover amazing talent and are able to graduate individuals into the Art of Rancho show and beyond." One of those exceptional individuals is Jonathan, who along with several of his fellow Pediatric artists, will be showing his work alongside seasoned Rancho artists at the Art of Rancho exhibition on Nov. 9-10. "When my Pediatric Arts instructors helped me develop the passion to paint, I hoped and dreamed that someday I could join them in the Art of Rancho show," Jonathan said. "Now, thanks to their inspiration and my hard work, my hopes and dreams are about to come true!" For further information, call the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation at (562) 401-7053 or visit, or

********** Published: September 01, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 20