Despite the chilly temperatures, the Coffee and Canvas event at the Valparaiso Family YMCA on Saturday morning saw eager painters fill a cozy sunlit conference room, as all were excited to spend a couple of hours transforming rows of blank canvases into vibrant works of art.
Complete with a generous donation of free coffee from the Starbuck's on U.S. 6 in Portage, the paint party was a joint event partnered by the YMCA and St. Mary Medical Center, and was part of Community Healthcare System’s cardiovascular research fundraiser dubbed “Hearts for Hope.” Chris Sheid, the Director of Marketing and Community Relations for St. Mary Medical Center, was excited to see the room so full, and even had to bring in a few extra tables and seats to accommodate all of the eager painters.
“I don’t have any artistic ability myself,” Sheid admitted, “but my goal is to make sure everyone has a good time as we celebrate Heart Month in February.”
That seemed to be a theme throughout the morning, as most guests - though identifying themselves as novice painters - came out mostly to support a good cause, and to enjoy their weekend with family and friends in the community.
Sandy Derr, who came to spend some time with her daughter-in-law, and maybe learn a thing or two about painting in the process, joked that her art might end up in the back of her closet afterward.
“I certainly am excited, though I’m not terribly optimistic about my abilities,” Derr said with a laugh. “For me it’s about spending time together.”
The whole event was led by Kathy Eckert, who independently owns and runs Canvas Escapes - an art company that brings the joy and peacefulness of painting to homes and businesses for all sorts of events. Eckert, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Indiana University, started the business in 2011 as a way for her to get back into the workforce after her son was born.
Although she has since become a full-time art teacher in East Chicago, Eckert still loves taking the time to share the therapeutic experience of painting with those eager to learn, no matter how young or old.
“I had one client who was ninety-five years-old and in a nursing home,” said Eckert. “At the end of the party she told me that this had been on her bucket list since she was twenty.”
Yet, besides coming for the company of a great instructor, good coffee, or family and friends, many of the participants on Saturday also came out to show their support for the fundraiser itself - the Hearts for Hope campaign that seeks to raise money in support of cardiovascular research.
“Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women in the United States,” said Sheid. “So this is a way for us to have a fun community event, while also raising funds for continuing cardiovascular research.”
For Roxy Karnes, who was at the event with her daughter-in-law, the importance of spreading awareness and continuing that research hits close to home.
“My brother died at my age, about three years ago, of a heart attack,” said Karnes as she added another brushstroke to her canvas. “A lot of people don’t have a medical background, and they don’t have the information, so I think awareness is really important.”
Another participant, Judy Maglish, who came to spend time with her daughter and friends, also had a personal connection to the cause behind the paint party.
“My husband had open heart surgery, and his doctor is very proud because it’s been nearly twenty years since he’s had it,” said Maglish, adding with a smile, “He exercises, he eats well, and I’m impressed with him.”
As the clock struck noon and everyone finished up their last few touches, the once white canvases radiated with bright shades of red and pops of blues and yellows. Though not everyone’s work of art was perfect, the uniqueness and diversity of each piece of work, combined with the community feeling within the room, set an optimistic tone for the beginning of Heart Month.
Sheid looks forward to the opportunity to continue spreading awareness for heart disease throughout the rest of February, and is excited for the other upcoming events - particularly the Hearts for Hope Treelighting Ceremony on February 15.
“For that event, we invite a patient who as undergone treatment for heart disease, and he or she talks a bit about how their life has been improved through cardiovascular research,” he said.
Sheid also wanted to remind everyone in the community that St. Mary Medical Center encourages everyone who has been affected by heart disease to add a paper heart to the hospital’s cafeteria wall. Sold for a dollar, these little hearts are just one of the many small ways that the entire community can help make a big difference, and change lives in the process.
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