We had the pleasure recently of speaking with Stephanie Park, mother to Jessica who lives at a Supported Living home in Kent. Jessica is a fabulous artist who sells her work at local exhibitions. Jessica also loves to attend the Books Beyond Words club which Stephanie managed to set up in her local area This is a great space for those who are d/Deaf with learning difficulties/disabilities to come together in the community. Stephanie says:
“I couldn’t have done it without Sue Carmichael, a Book Club Champion for Beyond Words and Kent Libraries, and Liz Mincer, a local interpreter who gives us her services free of charge. The club is now run by myself, Sue, Liz and Jessica. Jessica and her peers help set up and do the teas, and coffees and welcome our members”.
Jessica is a 30-year-old young lady who lives in her own flat. She loves shopping, going out, trips to the theatre, volunteering, and above all, art. Jessica is d/ Deaf and has learning disabilities so receives support to help her.
Jessica attends Sandra Art4all. This is a friendly, inclusive, and creative learning environment which provides a rewarding experience for all. Sandra helps those who are naturally creative, but perhaps lack confidence and find larger settings a struggle. Sandra’s passion for art and her experience offer real opportunities for young people with additional needs to use art in a positive and meaningful way. Jess, with Sandra’s help, has progressed her skills and finds being there both therapeutic and calming. Stephanie said:
“Sandra helps each person to develop their own style of artwork. Jess mainly focuses on cats. She’s really good, but couldn’t do it on her own, but under the guidance of Sandra is making beautiful things”.
Jessica also sells her artwork at local exhibitions, with her work typically selling for up to £120 per item. Her vibrant colourful style is a huge hit with many. Stephanie says that through art Jess has not only developed her skills, but also her self-esteem:
“It’s not like all the family are buying Jess’s artwork, but it’s people we don’t know. They are lovely statement pieces and would be a great feature in a trendy home or for any cat lover”.
In addition to her art, Jess also volunteers at the RSPCA Animal Centre and gets involved in her local Books Beyond Words Group set up locally by Stephanie, Sue Carmichael, a Champion of Beyond Words and Liz Mincer, a local interpreter.
Books Beyond Words is a charity, founded by Baroness Sheila Hollins which tells stories in pictures to help people with learning and communication difficulties explore and understand their own experiences. Picture stories are accessible to everyone, whether or not you can read words, and people can discuss how different characters may feel in a variety of relatable situations. Books Beyond Words helps people understand what is going on in the world and helps people cope with the challenges that they may face.
For Stephanie, this group enables her daughter to connect with others in the local community and understand more about what they see and watch:
“For Jess and her friends, they really enjoy the news, but often this can sensationalise issues, but if in a safe group environment, you can develop a story around a topic, it makes it clear and easy for everyone to understand and everyone can get involved.”
“We now have a d/Deaf woman from the local community who leads the group and a local interpreter who interprets for us free of charge. This is important to ensure that we are using the correct vocabulary as we are introducing some quite complicated and emotive themes”.
Stephanie went on to say:
“When the Queen died, we held the session in Westgate Council Offices and people were able to sign the Book of Condolence. Our book that week was “When Someone Dies” and provided a way to open conversations and talk about the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11. Jess and her friends are part of the community and they’ll be part of history. Through this [Books Beyond Words] they have access and awareness of so much more”.
Jess takes an active role in the running of the sessions and when they were held on Zoom she would announce whose turn it was to speak – these have given her a keen sense of responsibility. Others who are d/Deaf but do not have learning disabilities attend, providing role models for Jess and her peers as well as creating a real sense of community.
As for the future, we are very much looking forward to seeing some more of Jess’s fabulous creations and we are sure she will have even greater success. Jess is engaged too, so we wish her and her partner every happiness together.
Our heartfelt thanks to Stephanie for sharing Jess’s story and if you are interested in seeing some of Jess’s fabulous artwork you can do so here.
For more information on Books Beyond Words please click here.