Rancho artists turn tragedy into triumph

DOWNEY - More than 500 people viewed the inspirational artworks of nearly 50 Rancho Graduate Artists at the 16th annual Art of Rancho Exhibition Wednesday night on the campus of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center."Our patients show us their skill, they show us their heart, and they give us all hope with the masterful artworks they create," said Rancho CEO and noted artist Jorge Orozco. "We are very proud of the Art of Rancho program and the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts program, which inspire our patients and the members of the community with the courage and creativity of our artists." "I don't think there's another program with this many exceptional artists at any healthcare facility in the world," said Rancho Graduate Artist Steve Clay. "I can't tell you what an honor it is to be part of something that has positively transformed so many lives, including mine." Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe, who sponsors Rancho's Arts programs with the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation, had high praise for the artists of Rancho. "I know most of the artists personally, and it is exciting to see the growth in the quality of the art at this show each and every year. We are all so proud of what the Rancho artists accomplish, and how they boldly step forward to take on new challenges," he said. An excellent example of an artist who is spreading her wings this year is Cassandra Tang, who for many years has shown her embroidery masterpieces that are so detailed they almost appear to be paintings. "This year, Cassandra painted her first canvas, and this artwork is so incredible that Cassandra is our featured artist for 2011," said Rancho Director of Volunteer Services Debbie Tomlinson. Here, in her own words, is Cassandra's story, followed by those of the six new Art of Rancho graduate artists. CASSANDRA TANG "I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and am the eldest of three sisters. I came to the United States in 1980. On June 11, 1992, I earned my A.A. degree in Business Administration. Exactly one year later, my sister and I were victims of gun shots which left me paraplegic. My sister, Anh, was less fortunate. She lost her life and did not have a chance to finish her education at UCLA. "I was rehabilitated at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, where I am currently an outpatient. Special thanks to my physical therapists Joseph Damiani and Jan Furumasu, and my recreation therapist Adam Wilson. I am grateful to have received superb care from my doctors, nurses, therapists, driver training team and the rest of the staff. I'd like to thank the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation for the privilege of displaying my painting and embroidery work alongside the inspirational artists of Rancho. "I'd also like to thank my parents, sister Josephine and brother- in-law Jason for all their love and support. I am proud to have earned a B.S. degree in Accounting from California State University, Los Angeles. My most passionate accomplishment is being a volunteer. I find it to be very rewarding and self-satisfying. Having gone through the experiences that I've had, I've learned that life is a gift. I live each day to the fullest and make it as meaningful as it can be. Through me, my younger sister Anh still lives." JONATHAN ALVARENGA "I was born in East Los Angeles and raised in Los Angeles as part of a family of four. As a child I was always the ill one. Who knew I would have so many obstacles to overcome? "Raised in the 1990s in a gang-and-drug infested neighborhood, as a child I would see prostitution, shootings, drug deals and police racing to crime scenes. It all seemed so normal. As I reached my early teens, I was intrigued by money stacks, hip-hop knowledge and graffiti on walls, so I hustled with my middle-school friends selling drugs and writing music until my graffitti hobby became an addition. "I no longer sold drugs and I had stopped writing music. I just painted walls with streaks, battery acid, shoe polish and spray paint cans. Soon graffiti became all about turf. Now people started getting hurt, because it was all about knives, bats and guns. I was arrested twice as a young teen, was run over by a car and then shot several times. The shooting led to my rehabilitation at Rancho Los Amigos, where I was given the time and opportunity to really get in touch with my artistic side. Now I am focusing on my music and my art, and what is possible. "I wish to thank all my friends at Rancho for the time and effort invested in me, which helped me overcome all the boundaries I have and gave me the tools to deal with the ones that will surely come." JASMIN AMADOR "I was born with congenital Muscular Dystrophy. I was able to walk until I was eight years old, then never again. I always thank God for giving me the opportunity to experience what it means to walk. "I focus on the things that I can do, such as art. Art is my passion! It gives me a meaningful way to express myself. This year I decided to attend the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts classes at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. I loved the entire experience, and my teachers were especially amazing. They were very encouraging to me, and I am very happy to show my artworks at the Art of Rancho show. "Rancho is a fascinating place with people who fight with you and help you to achieve a better life. My art teachers are people like this...encouraging and inspiring me every step of the way!" WILBERT ANTHONY ARIAS "On June 24, 1989, I was shot through the back with a .22-caliber rifle, which severed my spinal cord and caused me to start a new way of living as a quadriplegic. During my 10 months at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, I had the very best rehab possible. Everyone at Rancho has always had words of encouragement, wisdom and praises that I have kept with me always. "In 2003, I came face-to-face with death again because of medical complications. As I was fighting for my life, I began drawing so that there would be something tangible for my family and children to hold onto and see besides memories. Spurred by my faith in God and my doctors, I survived the crisis. "My passion for art was rekindled during my readmission to Rancho for a flap surgery in August of 2010. During my four-month stay, I was introduced to the Art of Rancho program that I am honored to be a part of. "Thanks to Rancho's excellent rehabilitation services, one can excel in life. You just have to set your mind to do so! JOEL CASTRO "I was born just three weeks before Christmas in 1985 in Guatemala. I moved to El Salvador two years later, then was brought to the United States. "School was not a problem for me. I graduated from high school in 2004, and my life changed because I had no more friends to talk to. It was also time for me to work. I started working for minimum wage. Suddenly, my life was very different. I was up at 7 a.m. each day, and wouldn't return home until 8 p.m. I didn't have a car, so I rode my bike everywhere. "Soon I was working two jobs. Sometimes my bike would have a flat tire and I had to walk long distances. I tried working the overnight shift but that wasn't any better. Finally I got a job as a driver at FedEx. "I was able to move out on my own and buy a car, because now I had a good job. But it seemed like I was working 24/7. Then as unbelievable as it sounds, I had a stroke, was paralyzed and was hospitalized for almost a year. Thank God for this gift of art. It has helped me find a new purpose in life. Thank you, Rancho, for giving me my life back!" JUAN LAGUNA "I was born with spina bifida and have been constrained to a wheelchair since birth. For the first ten years of my life, I lived in a hospital due to many surgeries and complications related to my condition. "As I grew up, I attended a special education magnet school in Los Angeles. It was here that I first began to paint and draw at the age of 14. However, it was not until I was a student at Long Beach City College that I became serious about my painting. "Painting has been a great passion in my life. It gives me an outlet to do something fulfilling and productive while having hours of enjoyment. As an artist, I see the world differently by focusing on the simple beauty all around me. "But without the strength to paint, I would not have progressed as an artist. I have been receiving medical support from Rancho since age 18. The Rancho staff has helped me learn to live strong with my condition, and I wish to thank each and every staff member for always being there for me." ARTURO REYES "I was born in Santa Monica, and as a youth I excelled in sports. In high school, I won all-city honors in football. However, I always had an eye for the visual arts. I was deeply impressed by the vibrant colors and expressive quality of the masters of Impressionism such as Monet, Pissarro and Van Gogh. "In the ensuing years, I turned to photography and later the computer and Photoshop as the perfect way for me to create the visual, psychological and lyrical images that make up what I describe as 'The Reyes Method.' Certainly the work of Ansel Adams, the writings of Carl Jung and even the music of Led Zeppelin were also influences. In order to fully express my artistic vision, The Reyes Method uses it all! "A serious leg infection that brought me to Rancho Los Amigos has only reinforced in me the necessity of a life led in the spirit and pursuit of creativity. Such inspiration and optimism is nurtured at Rancho through a culture of dedication, skill and professionalism. I feel ready, willing and able now to share that creative spark that lies within us all and thereby fulfilling my creative possibility of inspiring the world with my art." Rancho artists continue to inspire people not just in Downey, but throughout the world, as they turn their personal trials into triumph through the Art of Rancho program. For further information, call the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation at (562) 401-7053 or visit rancho.org, facebook.com/rancholosamigosrehab or twitter.com/ranchorehab.

********** Published: November 10, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 30