FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — What began as a safe space for area residents who are in recovery from mental health or substance abuse is also home to several budding artists.

“People who are in our recovery programs are often very talented. It’s just a matter of expressing their thoughts creatively,” said Rochelle Satterfield, program coordinator of Friendship Fairmont. “When people are engaging in art, their mind kind of escapes all their troubles in the world.”

Since Oct. 1, the center has been hosting a paint-on-canvas art contest using the theme “What Does Recovery Mean to You?” The contest will conclude Nov. 5 during the center’s art group meeting.

“The art we’re seeing is completely abstract because it’s about each participant’s individual journey. There’s no pathway that clearly defines what recovery is to someone,” said Satterfield. “We define recovery as any positive change to what they’re hoping to accomplish in life and we’re seeing all different kinds of thoughts reflected in the paintings.”

Fairmont native Steve, who is homeless, said painting helps him channel emotions that otherwise might be destructive.

“I like to draw in my spare time, particularly painting things about nature. It helps clear my mind,” he said. “When I’m in a bad mood and feel like I want to inflict pain on somebody, I’ll draw or do some painting. It’s helps me not to be mad all the time. It makes me happier.”

Steve’s painting entry in the contest, according to Satterfield, is his take on “the tree of life, which is very representational of someone’s growth and journey.”

Satterfield said she finds it fascinating what transpires when mental health or substance-abusing participants take a paintbrush in hand and attempt to illustrate their thoughts.

“No one’s path to recovery is the same, so it’s very interesting to see how that lays out on canvas. Hopefully the art that’s produced helps lead to constructive conversations,” she said.

Criquet Hamrick, a recovery coach at Friendship Fairmont, has witnessed program participants opening up more about their lives and dreams as they’re painting.

“Some of the people we see hadn’t even thought about recovery or sobriety before we met them. We’re trying to get them to think about things a little differently and see there’s another side to the life they’ve been living,” Hamrick said. “The art seems to help start a conversation. It’s a way to get some of our participants a little more involved, to help them better enter a conversation about recovery.”

The center’s art group meets on Thursdays at 10 a.m., but participants may come in anytime and paint. Canvases and paints are available to all.

Both Friendship Fairmont and its sister program, Morgantown’s Friendship House, are funded by Morgantown-based Milan Puskar Health Right.

Housed in the entire fourth floor at the Marion County Court Annex Building in downtown Fairmont, the center closed for four months during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic, but continued to offer phone support for participants.

Satterfield credits the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties for helping Friendship House establish its presence in Fairmont, as well as in filling positions and finding volunteers. United Way also helped Friendship Fairmont find peer recovery coaches who, she she put it, “walked the walk” because they are often recovering from substance use disorder. She also praised the Marion County Commission for refurbishing the the space.

Friendship House currently employs three full-time staff members and has 14 volunteers. As many as 25 individuals take part in the programs and opportunities offered at the center.

Satterfield said a key concept of the organization’s mission is to work with participants without engaging in criticism.

“We’re a non-judgmental environment where people can come, sit and relax. They can talk with staff or just have a cup of coffee or a snack,” she said. “It’s a place where they can take a break from the chaos outside. It’s a safe place to seek services or ask questions related to homelessness, mental illness or substance use.”

Some of the programs offered include those centering on problem solving, coping skills, life skills, relapse prevention, and mindfulness and meditation. The latter group is “where people can come and meditate or meet with a peer recovery coach and unload,” according to Satterfield.

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