ALBANY – Markers, crayons and paint covered the long table where adults sat hunched over their creations, while music played in the background. Some focused on their artwork in silence, while others fell into conversation about their pieces, or their life experiences.

“I’m grateful for my life,” one woman said, in front of her a watercolor painting of flowers blooming from a vase, the words, “Love is in the air” written in cursive next to the flowers.

Every week, adults gather at the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless in West Hill to create. Some days it’s knitting, other days it’s Irish step dancing, but the favorite class tends to be watercolor painting. Started by Albany Medical College students in 2019, the art program is meant to be a therapeutic outlet for those who are low-income or experiencing homelessness.

“Everybody has a lot of stressors, and this is just a time for everybody to come together and re-center ourselves together,” said Katie Mancini, a first-year medical student and co-lead of the art program. “These people have so many things going on in their lives that they’re tackling, and they don’t have a lot of time for (self-care).”

For Lillie Tibbs, a 54-year-old Albany native who experienced homelessness after her house burned down, the art classes were one of the things she pursued to keep positivity in her life. She loves to paint pictures for her six children, such as a diamond ring for her daughter named Diamond, as wells as houses, flowers and birds.

Tibbs has experienced plenty of downs in her lifetime, including an abusive relationship and addiction. But none of that compared to experiencing homelessness.

“Being homeless was the lowest bottom that I had been through due to the pandemic,” she said. “It affected me mentally. So anything that’s positive and constructive, I’m interested in. It gets my mind off of all the things that are going on in my life. “

It’s not just the artwork that helps Tibbs feel better, but the sense of community – she doesn’t always get out of the house and socialize with other people, but the classes are a space where she can connect with others and feel supported in a world that often discriminates against her. In the art class, she’s not judged – she’s just human.

Tibbs’ experience is exactly why Interfaith Partnership was eager to collaborate with Albany Med on the art program. Their services often focus on basic needs such as food and shelter, but a holistic approach is critical to support people experiencing homelessness, they said.

“As human beings, we have all these other needs, as well as being able to express ourselves emotionally,” said Kristen Giroux, deputy director of Interfaith Partnership.

The classes have also provided the medical students with the opportunity to connect with communities that tend to be more distrustful of the health care system due to a history of mistreatment within health care. On the flip side, those communities are also learning more about health care.

But for many who participate, it’s simply one of the most relaxing hours of their week.

Recently, Tibbs was finally able to find a new apartment. Now she uses her paintings to decorate the walls of her new home.

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