Every week, Monday through Friday 9-5, Guest House Residential clients participate in our Workforce & Life Development (WLD) Program. There, they take high-immersion courses ranging from job hunting to on-the-job conduct, from healthy relationships to financial management.
But for one hour twice a week, the women get to let loose—in art class.
“They love it! They find ways to express themselves,” says WLD Coordinator Melanie Brumfield. Unlike art therapy, Melanie explains, “which is more about unpacking things, these classes are really about exploring and having fun.”
And on a deeper level, explains Jane Hess Collins, founder of the Alexandria-based nonprofit offering the classes, “the Guest House women want to be heard. They want people to know they are resilient and they’re going to make it, no matter what happened before. They have stories to tell. These show up in their art.” Art as a platform for the otherwise “silent stories” of marginalized adults was Jane’s inspiration in founding (and naming) her nonprofit, Heard, in 2017. “Because,” as she says, “everyone deserves to be heard.”
Doing good and making art are in Jane’s DNA. Her mother is an award-winning painter in Ohio. Her late father, a small business owner, annually gave 1% of his company’s earnings to a poor village in Haiti; over the years, those relatively modest donations fed hungry children, built a well, installed electricity and more. “What I learned from him and what guides me,” Jane says now, “is it doesn’t take an incredible amount of resources sometimes to have a tremendous impact.”
So it was that, starting in 2009, when she retired with the rank of colonel after 20 years in the Air Force, Jane “wanted to write about nonprofits and doing good.” One thing led to another—charity writing and reporting, a graduate communications degree from Georgetown—and eventually she decided to start Heard.
For its classes at Guest House, Heard provides the art instructors and materials and tailors the format to our program. Similarly, it fields art instruction to about 15 other local partners. Heard contracts 12 instructors. Classes span visual arts, creative writing, public speaking, singing, improvisation, dance—and even etiquette. All are expressive; all are packed with life skills, too.
Heard has been a valued Guest House partner since 2017, and Jane personally has been a generous donor. “When Jane came to us with this idea about classes, it was like, how soon can we start? And her classes have been the most consistent and creative over time of any of our Workforce classes! She’s an enormously important partner in so many ways,” says Guest House Executive Director Kari Galloway.
“Guest House has a certain draw for me,” Jane concludes. “I know these women are really committed to succeeding, so I want to give them every resource I can to help.” Learn more at heardnova.org.