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ICYMI: Portage Elora residents healing through arts program

Each week, a different local artist has been guiding residents from a youth rehab centre through a different medium of art

This article was previously published on EloraFergusToday.

ELORA – Not far from the hustle and bustle of Elora, just up on Irvine Road, a group of teenage boys are taking part in an arts program led by a local artist. 

This isn’t for school art credit or just for fun but a part of the youths’ addictions recovery. They are residents of Portage Elora.

As the rain stopped and clouds went away on Monday morning, 10 youth living with substance use disorders from the residential rehabilitation centre Portage Elora came out for the last session of a 10-week arts program run in partnership with the Elora Centre for the Arts (ECFTA) that saw a different local artist come in to teach a different medium. 

This week the youth were learning pyrography, the art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks from a heated pen-like tool, from Heather Martin of Firework Designs. In between some light banter and joking between the residents is a meditative focus on their pieces as they almost burn lines in the wood.

“I hope they can bring something forward with them whether it’s an idea of creation or perhaps it’s allowing themselves to get into a process,” Martin said. “With wood burning you really have to slow yourself down in order to wood burn. If you’re speeding through the process of creating then it’s not going to be effective.” 

This idea of slowing down to be creative is one of the things this recovery program is aiming to promote for the youth in recovery. 

Over 10 weeks, the youth have tried photography, visual arts, graffiti, blacksmithing, vocals, percussion and more.

“It is just great to give them exposure to art not so much for skill-building that they’re learning to become artists but just as a tool they can use in their lives when they leave Portage,” said Judy Anderson, public programs and education with ECFTA. “A place to go to express their feelings, to wind down.”

One Portage resident, a 14 year old who is nearly on month five out of six of his stay at Portage Elora, said he hated visual arts class in school but has found the program to be healing. 

“For a lot of kids here they’re probably coming from places where they didn’t get options like this at all,” he said.

He wasn’t sure if he’ll be taking art in school when he heads to Grade 10 in the fall but was planning to make a graffiti mural in the basement of his home with his dad when he goes home. At this session, he burned a frog on one side of the wood and the word “energy” on another.

Stephanie Lines-Toohill, an arts facilitator with ECFTA who has helped at the program each week, said having an addiction creates isolation, so the arts offer a different way for them to focus on positive feelings.

“What you’re seeing now is a different kind of flow happening for their brain, for their mind,” Lines-Toohill said. “They’re not focused on the addiction right now, they’re focused on creating their art and we hope that the feeling they have right now is a feeling they will relate to art making.”

Although this session is winding down, the program has funding provided by the Dalglish Family Foundation and Skyline Group of Companies for a further two years. 

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Keegan Kozolanka

About the Author: Keegan Kozolanka

Keegan Kozolanka is a general assignment reporter for EloraFergusToday, covering Wellington County. Keegan has been working with Village Media for more than two years and helped launch EloraFergusToday in 2021.
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