Oftentimes, many people do good in their community without recognition. This is because it isn’t about being in the spotlight for them, but instead it is about helping others and bettering their community. At Evolution Expressions, you become overwhelmed with a sense of peacefulness when you walk into the room. The walls are covered in colorful murals and you can’t help but forget about anything negative that may have been on your mind before you entered. In these rooms, kids are able to express themselves through art, music, dance, and many other ways.
Ashleigh Nearhoof and Taylor Clark work at Evolution Counseling Services located in Downtown Altoona. Evolution Counseling Services was established by Craig Clark and Jeff Colbert in July of 2015. Soon after, they set up a companion nonprofit called Evolution Expressions in 2017. Ashleigh and Taylor knew that they shared an interest in art and helping children who have experienced trauma in their lives. Through Evolution Expressions, over 200 children, ages from four to eighteen, have been treated for these traumas through arts for healing practices.
When explaining why art is such a key aspect to their program, Ashleigh reported that, “Art is a good way for the kids to express themselves without having to use words.” Practicing artwork in the form of drawing, painting, crafting, and other mediums allows children the opportunity to open up about how they are feeling without the use of words. Taylor reports, “Using arts for healing practices also provides children with a safe space to process emotions, enhance social skills, improve self-esteem and self-awareness, improve coping skills, and provide children with a positive community resource.”
Evolution Expressions provides group programming several days a week for children to engage in during the after school hours including; Arts for Healing Group, Zumba, ALLIES, J.A.M, Mom’s Club, and additional community activities. The Arts for Healing Group is for children and teens and it combines therapy and the arts to help children heal from trauma. Zumba, a popular dance fitness class, is offered to families and provides a safe space to have fun, exercise, and learn positive coping skills for decreasing stress. ALLIES is a group for LGBTQI youth and families and provides a safe space for creating a sense of community, empowerment, and support. Evolution Expressions also offers a group called J.A.M. (juveniles appreciating music) which allows children and teens to express themselves through music. Here, children are given the opportunity to learn to play guitar and the drums, which helps to build self-esteem, provide an outlet for emotional expression, and a coping strategy for working through trauma. A Mom’s Club is hosted at Evolution Expressions once per month, and allows mothers the opportunity to learn a craft and cooking skills, while also providing a positive and supportive atmosphere for dealing with traumas and stressors. Additionally, Evolution Expressions provides trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy to children who have experienced trauma by working to decrease PTSD symptoms, manage negative emotions associated with trauma, decrease academic difficulties, and improve trust, behaviors, family conflict, and feelings of anxiety and depression.
Ultimately, Evolution Expressions allows children, teens, and parents a safe space for processing trauma through the use of arts. Ashleigh and Taylor reported that Evolution Expressions loves to get families involved with positive community activities and connections. “We want them to know that they have people surrounding them that care. Sometimes the kids will even come out to these events and talk to people about the program,” Ashleigh stated. It is clear that Evolution Expressions has made a huge impact on the children and families of Blair County. It takes a community to make a difference in the lives of children and families. Clearly, the Evolution Expression’s hardworking team is making sure they put smiles on the faces of children and families, and help make life a little easier for our community.
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Makala Doyle, Penn State Altoona Sheetz Fellow