- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - The harsh, cold, metal door slipped away as green, then blue, turned into a lush, green field with a winding path and a group of University of Oklahoma undergraduate students painted murals at Bethesda Inc., a local agency that specializes in sexual abuse treatment and prevention for children and adolescents.

The OU students were part of Kris Newlin’s Studio Art Therapy class who volunteered their time to add life to the nonprofit’s entry. The group painted two sides of an entry door at Bethesda Inc., one side of a landscape with a quote and the other side of a figure reaching toward the stars.

Sandra Wellman, Bethesda clinical director, told The Norman Transcript (https://bit.ly/1pvZC6r ) that the group submitted several mural ideas, but the organization settled on the two chosen designs because they represented Bethesda Inc. best.

“The landscape depicts a road going off into the distance. That represents the journey that starts here,” she said. “A lot of kids think it’s all over when they come here, but they learn it’s really the beginning, it’s a start toward healing. We hope children leave here with a positive, different feeling about counseling and are more apt to continue on a path of healing and reach out in the future when they need it.”

The mural with the figure reaching for the stars includes the heart symbol associated with Bethesda Inc.Wellman said that mural gives a sense of hope. The quote painted on the landscape reads, “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you go; they merely determine where you start,” from Nido Qubein.

Bethesda Inc. asked students to paint the door specifically because, previously, it was uninviting.

“We didn’t have any doors originally and there was this great open, inviting feel. Due to security precautions, we put a in a door, but it just didn’t feel the same,” Wellman said.

“We’re really happy with the murals. Even after the first coat of paint, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, now I feel like I’m at Bethesda again.’ It’s so bright and happy.”

Student volunteers included Elysa Casiano, Brittany Cole, Lacey Garrison, Harold Lathan III, Denise McDonough, Aaron Snyder, Tryston Walsh, Min Whomble, Alex Wood and Zac Yount.

“It’s been great painting the mural. I’m not an artist, but I’m interested in counseling,” Garrison said. “You can already see how bright the mural makes it here for the kids.”

The art therapy class allows students to get involved in a number of community action projects. Thus far, Newlin’s students have created Valentine’s Day cards to benefit Beautiful Dream Society, which works to end human trafficking in Lesotho, Africa, and Oklahoma, and have drawn pictures of shelter animals for the Norman Animal Welfare Center.

“The class teaches students how to communicate in the community and make a therapeutic difference by using art,” Newlin said.

Bethesda Inc. has been serving the Norman community for more than 30 years. More than 400 clients receive on-site counseling treatment each year, and about 3,000 children receive services through Bethesda’s outreach program. Services at Bethesda Inc. are free.

“We want people to know there is a safe place where they can get help for free,” Wellman said.

Bethesda Inc. will host its annual fundraiser, Come Blow Your Horn, from 6 to 9 p.m. April 21 at Local Restaurant, 2262 W. Main St.

The event will include music, a silent auction, live auction and raffles. Individual tickets are $50. All proceeds will benefit Bethesda Inc.


Online: www.bethesdaok.org or facebook.com/BethesdaInc

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