Alison Ward, a peer volunteer at Coleman Professional Services, said she finds great satisfaction from Wick Poetry Center’s weekly sessions at the Ravenna facility.
“I journaled, but I had never done creative writing,” she said during a visit from Charlie Malone, Wick Poetry Center’s program and outreach coordinator, on Friday.
Ward, of Streetsboro, said her road to recovery began 13 years ago when she first came to Coleman and learned she has several mental disorders in addition to having experienced “horrific childhood abuse.”
“Journaling is my thoughts, how I’m feeling,” she said. “Poetry helps me think. It helps me to be creative. It brings me joy.”
Wick Poetry Center is bringing healing to clients in several recovery homes around the county, according to Karyn Hall, director of community relations at the Mental Health and Recovery Board. Other locations include PARC (the Portage Area Recovery Center) and Root House. There are also plans to start visits to Townhall II’s Horizon House, she added.
Shawn Gordon, executive director of the Portage Medical Center Foundation at UH Portage Medical Center, said the hospital began working with Wick Poetry Center last spring, and reached out to the Mental Health and Recovery Board to discuss funding Wick Poetry Center visits to the other organizations.
“The foundation made this program possible initially for patients and staff at the hospital,” she said. “It’s a community benefit that the hospital provides to our strategic partners.”
Gordon said the Fowler family is underwriting the majority of Healing Stanzas, which is enabling Wick Poetry Center to visit the hospital, Coleman and the other locations.
David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center, said sessions usually begin with a poem everyone reads that models a specific form or relates to some shared experience within the group.
“We use this phrase, ‘charging the air,’” he said. “You come in with this piece of writing that triggers their own writing, their own memories. When we ask them to write, they’re literally drawing on that model. They participate in making something themselves that’s memorable and gets beneath their skin.”
Hassler said participants usually don’t enter the sessions planning to overtly confront their demons, whether they be addiction, mental disorders or other chronic conditions.
“You never are trying to address something head-on,” he said. “You get into a state of mind where you surprise yourself. We don’t say, ‘Write about anxiety and depression; tell me about addiction.’ We lead them to their own discovery. The healing process has its own timeline.”
Becky McIntrye, who is certified as a peer support person, said she’s enjoyed having the poetry sessions as a new creative outlet.
“When we heard [Malone] was coming, I said, ‘I can’t write a poem,’” she said. “I’ve written several. It has really shaped our skills for journaling.”
Some of the UH Portage Medical Center patients who have participated in workshops with Wick Poetry Center have experienced strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, and cancer, while others are receiving palliative or hospice care.
Hassler said the medical staff works to heal patients’ physical selves. Sharing poetry helps heal patients psychologically.
It’s also not the only form of expressive healing offered through UH Portage Medical Center or Coleman Professional Services.
“I see it as a complementary therapy,” said Camille Fauser, who directs the Options program at Coleman. “It is one of many things that help people recover. Recovery is a process; it’s not something that has a definite endpoint. Any of the creative processes are so helpful for people. Oftentimes, people don’t realize they have this within them.”
Coleman’s Options program also includes an art club, a group focusing on self esteem, women’s groups, men’s groups and more.
At UH Portage Medical Center, Gordon said she’s looking forward seeing what happens when the Wick Poetry Center teams up with the hospital’s music therapy program, which is run by Forrest Paquin.
Malone said he’s already discussed plans with Paquin for joint activities.
“We’ve already been picking her brain,” he said.
He also said the Wick Poetry Center hopes to use poems written by UH Portage Medical Center patients and Coleman clients as part of the center’s Traveling Stanzas campaign, in which poems are coupled with art, printed as posters and placed in kiosks, visible spots in downtown Kent, and even on buses.