If you’re one of those holiday season procrastinators out there who waited until the last minute to send out cards, you’re in luck.
Over at Mankato’s MRCI Worksource, their holiday card machine is going strong. And their wares are for sale.
Since 1991, MRCI has operated a program called EASE, which stands for Employment and Social Enrichment. EASE takes retirement-age MRCI clients with disabilities who no longer wish to work and finds creative ways to keep them active.
Part of that program involves engaging the clients in artistic endeavors. And each holiday season, at least for about the last 10 years, they take their talents and create greetings cards.
It started when retired art teacher Donna Winter-Ewert called MRCI and offered her teaching skills. They accepted, of course, and put her to work.
Initially, about six MRCI clients were identified as being a good fit for the program. Two were added later and now they’re working with eight.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Kathy Sturm of MRCI, who oversees the EASE program. “People’s skills have changed over the years.”
The group meets regularly throughout the year with Winter-Ewert guiding them through various art projects. Sometimes they look at pictures of, for example, lighthouses. From there they get inspiration to create their own watercolor paintings of lighthouses.
“Their self-esteem is elevated through this work,” Sturm said. “Especially when they can sell what they’ve created.”
All of the work that’s available from the artists is available for sale, whether it be individual prints or, in the case of the holiday season, greeting cards. At the MRCI website they’ve posted dozens of samples of their work. They’ve also made it simple to order cards (mrciworksource.org/ease.html). For all sales, a third of the proceeds goes directly to the artist. Another third goes to printing. The remainder goes back to the program.
The artists appreciate the chance to use their creative sides.
“I like everything about it,” said artist Mary K. Templin. “I like learning to do different kinds of painting.”
Fellow artist Marann Dehn agreed.
“I like to paint,” she said, trying to explain her love for the program. “I just do. It feels good.”
Sturm says they’ve gone to some churches to sell cards, as well as the annual art fair at Riverfront Park. The cards are available at Stone’s Throw Gallery in St. Peter.
They’ve got corporate clients, too, including Wells Fargo and an accounting firm in the Twin Cities. Their work is hanging on the hallway walls at MRCI as well as the walls of area nonprofits, including ECHO Food Shelf, VINE Faith in Action’s Summit Center, Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, the Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society and the Backpack Food Program.
Sales, though, are secondary. The main goal is giving people who are aging a chance to remain creative.
“One artist stood up and said, ‘I didn’t know I had it in me!’” Sturm said.