Volunteer Mickey Leone, founder of the Chestnut Hill Music Academy, stands next to Jonathan Smith (right) and Dexter Herbert (left) as they display their art work at Face to Face in Germantown on Tuesday, Feb. 18. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)
Dexter Herbert
James Bolden
Mickey Leone

by Sue Ann Rybak

The hardships suffered by many area residents during the recent snowstorms are stark realities that the homeless and those living in poverty face on a daily basis.

A study by the Drexel University School of Public Health found that those living in deep poverty (50 percent below the federal poverty level) go for long periods of time without running water, heat or electricity.

According to a 2012 Pew Research Initiative Report, “26 percent of East Germantown residents live in deep poverty,” which can be defined as a single person having an annual income of less than $5,700, or a family of four living on less than $11,700 a year.

But for many, it is the stress and isolation of living on the fringes of society that is the most crippling hardship of all, according to Mary Kay Meeks-Hank, executive director of Face to Face in Germantown, who noted that many of her organization’s clients live in a state of toxic stress.

Meeks-Hank said when people think about the homeless, they think about feeding them but not about their emotional well-being.

Face to Face, at 109 E. Price St. in Germantown, provides more than a hot meal for the homeless and those living in poverty. She said it is a place where people feel welcomed and are valued as human beings.

Face to Face was founded by Eileen Smith as a dining room housed at St. Vincent De Paul Church in 1985. Since then Face to Face in Germantown has grown into a comprehensive organization that provides a variety of social services, including a dining room that serves almost 800 people a week, a nurse-managed health center, a legal center, a social services center and a washeteria where people can take a hot shower and receive a new set of clothes. It also operates a children’s summer camp and after- school programs.

One of the lesser-known activities at Face to Face is its Adults’ Arts program, which is held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays in the dining room. Wyndmoor resident Mickey Leone, who recently opened Chestnut Hill Music Academy in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, recently took over the program as volunteer director.

Leone, who has a master’s degree in psychological counseling from Chestnut Hill College and special training in expressive arts therapy, is helping to revive the adult arts program.

Meeks-Hank said Leone is reinvigorating a program that has been struggling since the former coordinator left. She said Leone is using art to help clients express their feelings and establish trust among the participants.

“The art program at Face to Face enables participants to tap into their creative, spiritual energies,” Meeks-Hank said. “We create an atmosphere of safety and community wherein the artists can explore their own creativity.

“Even a brief glance at the creations of Face to Face artists convinces the viewer that the giftedness of our artists is beyond what one might expect from the socially marginalized and economically disadvantaged.”

Leone said the program was designed to be more than just arts and crafts. He said the goal was not to teach the clients how to draw but rather to encourage them to use art as “a tool to express themselves.”

“Words are overrated as a form of communication,” said Leone, a lifelong musician and songwriter.

Leone said the art program gives clients a chance to be heard.

In an earlier interview with the Local, Meeks-Hank pointed out that many of her organization’s clients are not used to being acknowledged or greeted.

“They are used to being ignored,” she said. “When people walk through our door, we want them to feel wrapped in hospitality.”

Leone added that the art program gives them a voice.

“We try to make it intentionally social and intentionally expressive,” said Leone, who often encourages attendees to work together on a painting, rather than having them sit quietly and paint by themselves.

At last week’s session, one person selected the color of paint while their partner painted with the paint brush. Participants took turns selecting the color and painting and discussed the piece they were working on.

After their paintings were completed, participants were asked to describe in one word their neighbor’s painting. Some of the replies were “tranquil,” “beautiful,” “free spirit.”

Later, Leone asked participants to paint or draw something that represented or expressed friendship to them.

“There is something about being witnessed,” Leone said, adding that the idea is to create a “space that enhances that experience.”

A participant, Cassandra King, 41, drew a candle and sunshine because, she said, friends are like light in the darkness.

But it is only with the help and support of the community that Face to Face in Germantown can continue to be a light in the darkness.

For more information about Face to Face in Germantown, go to facetofacegermantown.org, or to make a donation or volunteer, call Patty McDonough at 215-438-7939. The Adults’ Art program is in desperate need of art supplies.