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ARTreach Mural Leaves Legacy


(L-R) Terrence Brown, independent living coordinator at Rio Bend; William Coleman, foster home coordinator at Rio Bend; Terri Bieber, executive director for ARTreach; and Becca House, program director for ARTreach. v Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities, stands in front of the mural.

(L-R) Terrence Brown, independent living coordinator at Rio Bend; William Coleman, foster home coordinator at Rio Bend; Terri Bieber, executive director for ARTreach; and Becca House, program director for ARTreach. v Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities, stands in front of the mural.

By Kim Montgomery

Smiles illuminated the gathering room at Rio Bend, a Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston foster care community located in Fort Bend County, during the unveiling of the mural created by the community’s young residents.

In attendance at the unveiling was Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities. She thanked ARTreach for their partnership.

“Art is an energizing, encouraging and healing activity,” Colbert said. “My hat goes off to the youth for making this happen.”

Since 2011, the foster children at Rio Bend have participated in art activities facilitated by ARTreach staff and volunteers. The ARTreach programs are made possible through a grant by the Texas Commission on the Arts.

The journey into designing and painting the mural began in January according to Becca House, the ARTreach director who led the mural project. Twice a month, House and the group of volunteers from ARTreach visited Rio Bend and guided the children through the process of creating the multi-wall mural.

Personal Stories in Paint

A pastoral scene done in the style of Vincent van Gogh spreads across three walls and the words “Rio Bend… Together … One Soul” draws onlookers to observe the silhouettes that visually pop from the mural. The silhouettes provide an introduction to the young residents — without revealing their true identity. Through the unique mural, one is introduced to a young person who loves soccer and music, another with a passion for painting, volleyball and flowers, and even someone who idolizes Spiderman as evidenced by the familiar black and red design covering their silhouette.

“We wanted this mural to be a legacy to the youth who created it,” House said.

Although English is not the first language for most of the young people living there, House said the language barrier did not deter the project.  ARTreach Volunteer Director Marla Ward said it was remarkable watching the youth embrace their creative side. She went on to explain how she loves coming back time after time and working with the children because they have such diverse backgrounds and have already overcome many obstacles in their lives.

One of the youth, a female from Burma, said she really did not know about art before beginning the mural. Upon seeing the finished work at the unveiling, she was happy with what came out of her hard work. Another youth, a 9th grade boy originally from Guatemala, was proud of the work he did on his silhouette.

“It’s like I am leaving a memory of me,” he said, and the other children nodded in agreement.

The young residents have developed a camaraderie, according to William Coleman, the foster home developer on staff at the community. Coleman helps select and train foster parents who will live at Rio Bend. Foster parents live in a home with up to eight foster children. The community caters to refugee teenage youth and teenagers who have been put into Child Protective Services.

The foster parents living and working at the community are charged with helping the youth adjust to an unfamiliar environment. Chris and Maureen Colaneri foster seven boys, and both attest that the hours are long — they never really stop working. The payoff, however, is beyond rewarding.

“It is an amazing experience to see these kids grow from their experiences at Rio Bend,” said Chris. “Togetherness and community are important, and this was a real benefit they got out of working on the mural.”

Lanette Gonzalez, vice president of children, family and senior services for Catholic Charities, said the need for foster parents is great at Rio Bend. She also explained what the community offers to the youth.

“Rio Bend provides a safe, nurturing environment to the youth we serve,” said Gonzalez. “We provide educational services, medical services and a social environment where the youth can participate in many activities.”

Learning Life Skills

A tour of the site takes visitors through a recreation room with pool tables and exercise equipment with large windows looking out to a large swimming pool any suburban community would be eager to have. The residents also have a high school regulation-sized basketball court to sharpen their athletic skills. A chapel is situated at the entrance of Rio Bend.

Raj Kendrick, program director for Catholic Charities, said that having the staff and foster parents on-site with the children is a great benefit. The youth are required to not only attend school and/or work, but they also learn life skills such as completing job applications, starting a savings account, managing their budget and grocery shopping.

A primary goal of the staff is to bring the teenagers to a point where they can be independent. Unlike other foster programs, Rio Bend staff continue to work with youth who age out of the foster care program, up to age 21, and in some cases, even longer.

Kendrick said she has witnessed a newfound maturity from the foster children who helped create the Together… One Soul mural.

“When I hear a young person say ‘Wow! I didn’t know I could paint,’ I feel excited for them,” Kendrick said. “The most rewarding part of what I do is seeing the humbleness and gratefulness of these children.”

ARTreach is currently planning new, engaging activities for Rio Bend. SonKiss’d Dance Theater has signed on to work with the youth through ARTreach. Under the direction of the theater’s artistic director Christopher Thomas, the foster children will begin an exploration into performing arts. Thomas shared his excitement over the upcoming performance, saying that he wanted to help the youth create something unforgettable. The community will be invited to attend this free performance once the date is finalized.

Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities, stands in front of the mural.

Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities, stands in front of the mural.


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