Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't be pushed by your problems, be led by your dreams

The inspirational saying that's the headline on this blog is written on the entrance to the UMAR Arts Center. It's a door I encourage you to walk through. I just did for the first time today and I came out a more invigorated and enlightened person.

In case you haven't heard of UMAR, it's a nonprofit that helps adults with intellectual and development disabilities throughout North Carolina by promoting their inclusion into their communities. It also helps give them their independence by providing residential, employment and cultural enrichment opportunities.

On the second Friday of the month from noon to 1 p.m., UMAR is hosting informative "get to know us" luncheons at its Arts Center on the grounds of Spencer Memorial United Methodist Church, 1025 E. 36th street in NoDa. It's open to anyone in the community. To attend, email development manager Lena Fung Brennan at

Under the guidance of artist and staff member Bob Terri, there's some amazing creativity coming out of the UMAR Arts Center .

"This is not busy work," says Bob. "We are not a daycare with crafts for adults. We are creating art. But we're not just about producing art to sell, we have a holistic approach. They're also learning life skills."

When you connect with a piece of art, it's a very personal and exciting moment. One of my favorites was an artist who had taken sheet music and made a small collage of two-dimensional flowers trilling along with the musical notes. It made me wonder if that's what musicians see when they're reading a piece of music that's happy. Do flowers seem to burst forth from the notes?

Some of the artists enjoy creating jewelry and their works are really unique. Among my favorites were a group of statement necklaces inspired by different cultures that would have people stopping you and asking, "Where did you get that?" Here's a photo:

And the silk scarves the artists design are truly outstanding. They paint on the scarves directly using several different methods and the end result is absolutely gorgeous. Here's a photo:

The Arts Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. For details, go to or the nonprofit's Facebook page at

Here are some really interesting things I learned at the luncheon:

  • Ann Church, a Duke graduate who joined UMAR as its president in 2011, was given a low Apgar Score when she was born. She was sent to specialists for several years until they determined she was a normally functioning child, but she never forgot what it felt like to be treated differently. That's what motivates her to make others see that people with disabilities may not look the same or act the same, but that doesn't mean they don't have a lot to offer or that we can't learn from them.

  • One of the luncheon guests was Donna Peterson, owner of LaVida Massage in Foxcroft and Ballantyne. She and her staff volunteered at a UMAR event, so she came to learn more about the nonprofit.

  • The nonprofit has a partnership with the McGill Rose Garden on Davidson Street. The UMAR artists painted five benches inspired by artists who are role models because they had medical issues (among the tributes are benches in honor of Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gough and Keith Haring).

  • The efficiency of the organization is inspiring. UMAR believes in personal choice, so they don't push the adults into doing things. Instead, they expose them to different opportunities and see which ones they have a talent for and enjoy, but everything ties in together. For example, Baucom's Nursery has generously given UMAR the use of a greenhouse. Some of the adults enjoy working there. When the produce is harvested, part of it is taken to the Arts Center to be photographed as a reference for Still Life paintings. Here's a photo of a recent harvest display:

  • All the produce then goes to the adults who are learning cooking skills. Any leftover produce is given to feed the adults in UMAR's group homes and the children in daycare at Spencer Memorial United Methodist Church, or distributed to homeless shelters and Second Harvest Food Bank.

  • Here's a photo of a jar of refrigerator pickled vegetables made by the adults that were given to the luncheon guests. I haven't tasted them yet, but they sure do look good.

I'll end this with meaningful words spoken at the luncheon by Marilyn Garner, UMAR's director of development: "We all have the same goals and dreams, some of us just need a little more help."