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There are a lot of job titles that convey certain measures of authority. But when it comes to resident Paula Brinkman, being Newtown’s first officially certified “Creator” brings with it some awesome responsibilities that can only be exceeded by its rewards.
Ms Brinkman achieved her new certification as part of the PeaceLove movement, a curriculum of creative exploration that was embraced early-on by The Avielle Foundation as a component of its Spark Project initiative. The Avielle Foundation was started by local residents Dr Jeremy Richman and his wife Jennifer Hensel to honor their daughter, who was among the first grade victims of the 12/14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“The Avielle Foundation is committed to preventing violence and building compassion through neuroscience research, community engagement, and education,” Dr Richman previously told The Newtown Bee. He said the foundation has identified a number of risk factors that not only lead individuals to engage in violent behaviors, but also to becoming victims of violence.
At the same time, he said there are a number of protective factors that can be reinforced through social and emotional learning and its outcome behaviors.
“The degree that you have this social emotional intelligence, and the mastery of it, really predicts success in life,” Dr Richman said. “So we wanted to start working with children to engender these social emotional skill sets early-on, which we’re calling the Spark Project.”
Under the Spark umbrella, The Avielle Foundation has supported mental health first aid training, educational lectures, and a flagship after school program previously serving the Reed Intermediate School students in fifth and sixth grade at the NYA Sports & Fitness facility.
Besides NYA, the Avielle/Spark program has aligned with Ben’s Lighthouse, the Resiliency Center of Newtown, the Life Is Good Kids Foundation, became the title sponsor of this year’s annual Newtown Yoga Fest, and is working to develop new partnerships to expand its collaboration with Ms Brinkman and PeaceLove.
“Basically, Jeremy and [Spark leader] Cody Foss have been working with Playmakers and I attended one of the Playmakers training sessions,” Ms Brinkman said. “I was already part of the Spark program, and as I have found in the world, good people tend to know good people, so my contact with Playmakers helped put me in touch with the people at PeaceLove. Since their goal and mission is similar, it was suggested that the Spark program adopt some of the PeaceLove curriculum.”
After seeing a Danbury Creator conduct a session for Spark, Ms Brinkman learned that PeaceLove was eager to train additional individuals to conduct more workshops locally.
“And the fingers all sort of pointed at me,” she said. “Even though I was already hosting an art class with Spark — the kids really liked doing the PeaceLove and the ‘Paula’ classes — we decided to bring it all together under PeaceLove. And I was formally trained and became a certified Creator in August of 2016.”
According to the organization’s website, PeaceLove’s co-founder Jeff Sparr has made it his life mission to help millions of people create peace of mind through expressive arts and storytelling. A family man, self-taught artist, and teacher, Mr Sparr considers himself a survivor after battling obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) much of his life.
On a whim, and with no background or training, Mr Sparr decided to try his hand at painting. Like discovering a superpower, he found painting dramatically subdued the symptoms of his OCD, providing a creative outlet and sense of control. This discovery changed the course of his life, and he wanted to share it with the world.
In early 2009, Mr Sparr and his cousin Matt Kaplan obtained a quantity of art supplies and headed to the children’s intensive treatment unit at the local psychiatric hospital where the PeaceLove founder shared his story and struggles and challenged the kids to paint what gave them peace of mind.
The kids not only had fun, but were able to communicate through their art in ways that they could not in words, which inspired the creation of PeaceLove.
From 2009 to 2015, Mr Sparr and Mr Kaplan shared their story and workshops in classrooms, hospitals, community centers, and corporate board rooms, reaching more than 25,000 people in diverse communities and the result was always the same — participants experienced improved mental wellness and gained new tools to talk about mental health.
Mr Sparr said that as word spread about the work that he and Mr Kaplan were doing and requests poured in, they realized the organization would need to change its model to meet the growing demand for PeaceLove programming.
‘Creators’ Become Reality
As a result, in February 2015, PeaceLove launched the Creators program to address the increasing demand for PeaceLove programs nationwide. Through this program frontline professionals like Ms Brinkman are trained and empowered to deliver this life-changing expressive arts curriculum in their communities.
As Newtown’s first PeaceLove “Creator,” Ms Brinkman works directly with individuals, families, and groups to help them achieve improved mental health and better quality of life through artistic expression.
A writer and illustrator by training, Ms Brinkman also has found success as an art buyer, crafted a line of “spirit dolls,” and has worked for the Trinity Day School since 2009 helping prepare 4- and 5-year-old children emotionally, socially, and academically for the transition to kindergarten, according to her LinkedIn bio.
On the afternoon of September 18, she will put her Creator skills to work again at the C.H. Booth Library.
“[Young Adult Librarian] Kim Weber has me scheduled for a PeaceLove workshop called ‘Creative Calisthenics,’ which is a fun, icebreaker type of workshop where numerous paintings are worked on and passed around for collaboration,” she said. Creative Calisthenics is one of a half-dozen PeaceLove-specific workshops, designed for helping participants get out of their comfort zones through an exciting and unexpected exercise with paint.
This latest workshop will be part of the kick-off for the library’s youth council, Ms Brinkman added.
“I call it the ultimate ice-breaker,” she said. “It involves participants sitting around a table with paint and a canvas, and it is continuously shifting so your canvas becomes your neighbor’s canvas, and on and on around the table. It’s about just experiencing the unexpected by letting go and seeing how others interpret and add their own inspiration to your painting. From young to old, everybody seems to really love this workshop.”
This latest session at the library will be one of the 12 workshops Ms Brinkman is bound to conduct every year as a condition of her continued certification as a PeaceLove Creator, she said.
“You don’t just get crowned a ‘Creator’ by taking the training and becoming certified. You have to offer 12 workshops over the course of a year and provide outcomes and supporting materials to go with it,” she said. “To keep that status, I need to continue hosting these workshops.”
Finding Spaces, Places
Ms Brinkman gets ongoing support through a combination of PeaceLove representatives directly, as well as online resources.
“It sounds very haughty, but in Newtown I am the only ‘Creator,’” she said, laughing. “During the Yoga Fest, I hosted a workshop with about six kids, and did another workshop for adults at Trinity.”
At the Yoga Fest, she conducted another one of the PeaceLove roster of workshops called Rhythm And Color — leading participating youths to collaborate through a multimodal experience of musical creativity, artistic inspiration, and dynamic energy.
“We sit in a circle with percussion instruments, and you experience playing music, listening to rhythms, copying each other’s rhythms, and exploring your own creativity without putting a mark down on paper,” she explained. “The second part involves partnering with another participant, working together creating something on paper without speaking — but tapping into the musical experience you just had. It’s basically a jam session and art session combined.”
Among the remaining PeaceLove workshops Ms Brinkman is trained to lead are:
*Dual Emotions — exploring the relationship between different emotions experienced;
*Mandala Poetry — earning to be present in the moment while becoming more conscious of inner thoughts and feelings;
*Story Shoes — expressing each person’s unique story and life journey using three-dimensional collage and stories; and
*Transformation Collages — inspiring transformation of unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns into a positive alternative path.
In the coming weeks Ms Brinkman will be continuing to help The Avielle Foundation find a long-term temporary or permanent home to host after school PeaceLove programming.
“Once school starts, it’s a little more challenging because it involves coordinating schedules and transportation,” she said. “But we’re confident that once we find a base of operations, we’ll be able to do a lot more good through this wonderful program.”
Learn more about the program at peacelove.org.