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Stories | 04.24.19

Change Agent: John Gingrich

John Gingrich’s experiences at Adler University inspired him to bring art therapy and large-scale public art together to create change in his community. A student in the Master of Counselling Psychology: Art Therapy program in Vancouver, he recently planned and painted a mural with local youth and young adults who have been affected by the opioid epidemic.

The mural was created through Drive Youth Employment Services (D-Yes), which helps people 16 to 30 who face barriers to employment receive free access to services that further their job prospects. Gingrich has been completing his second-year clinical practicum at D-Yes, working with youth one-on-one and in a weekly art program called Make It, which he runs with Cassandra Evans, M.A. ’16.

“Building connections with people at D-Yes has been very fulfilling,” Gingrich said. “Everybody has so much creativity and openness that they bring in to our sessions and our groups.”

Gingrich describes the mural process as six months of team solidarity and collaboration. He worked with six youth throughout each step of the painting process, from ideation to writing a proposal to the city of Vancouver to projecting and tracing the design on the wall to painting. The youth were trained and certified on boom and scissor lifts, adding to their job skills.

The mural depicts a mix of natural elements held within a baroque frame. “This represents the balance between nature, the indigenous peoples of the land, and the Italian presence within the Grandview-Woodland neighborhood of Vancouver,” Gingrich said.

“The words inspiration, creativity, connection, and compassion are reminders of what we strive for in our group and in our community. The hummingbird shows the freedom that comes from healing and gives a sense of hope for those currently struggling with addiction.”

All of the youth were paid for their work on the project thanks to a grant from the city of Vancouver, which also provided funding for painting materials and primed the wall.

The participants now “have a sense of pride about this giant painting they created, knowing that is has a positive message and peaceful imagery that provides hope for people still suffering from addiction,” Gingrich said.

Throughout his classwork at Adler University, Gingrich realized that the primary cause of addiction is trauma and lack of connection.

“To combat the isolation that causes and is perpetuated by substance abuse, it is paramount that people come together and unite with something of mutual interest, in this case, art,” Gingrich said. “Projects like this help people achieve a common goal of healing, collectively.”

Gingrich, whose grandfather was a student of Adler University founder Rudolf Dreikurs’ in the 1960s, said the University has been integral in leading him to this community work. “Adler has opened the door for so many opportunities of working with communities. The socially engaged framework guides me to be as useful as possible, doing all I can to benefit others and to create change.”

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