Students help Missouri Hotel residents unlock expressive potential

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., June 11, 2014 — For fourteen years, a unique class at Drury University has helped residents of the Missouri Hotel unlock their expressive potential and encouraged them to think about their lives in new ways.

The class is called Building Community Through the Arts and its goal is to provide the Hotel residents an artistic outlet over the course of two weeks, with a final public exhibition from 1:30 to 3 p.m., Friday, June 13 at the Missouri Hotel, 420 W. Commercial St. The Missouri Hotel provides shelter to homeless men, women and children. It is a program of The Kitchen, Inc.

The course offers the students an experiential approach to everyday living and learning, while giving them a chance to make a difference in the Drury neighborhood at the same time. It is open to graduate and undergraduate students of all majors and the 2014 class includes those studying biology, theater, religion, education, architecture and more. The seven students have been using their varied skill sets to connect with the residents of the Missouri Hotel.

“The idea is to inspire them, motivate them and give them something that’s their own and that they can feel proud of,” says Madison Miles, a fourth-year architecture major.

This year’s theme is “Don’t Stop Believing” and some of the artistic endeavors have included dancing, singing, drawing, paper weaving, designing T-shirts and more. Some of the subject matter has been heartfelt – such as the reactions to the 2012 fire that briefly displaced residents and damaged several rooms at the facility.

“Through art, we are getting to know them and they’re getting to know us,” says Yufei Zhao, a senior religion and philosophy major.

Students gain valuable insights and context about poverty through the book A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. The text has been in the spotlight in the Springfield community during the last year, including a high-profile visit by the author in February.

“It’s apparent very quickly that it’s a false stigma that these are people who are untalented or uneducated,” says Evan Stelzer, a senior psychology major.

The Drury students are learning about the power of connecting with others from different backgrounds — and about the power of art.

“So much can be said through art,” says senior biology major Ali Barnes. “Before I took this class, I did not know you could do such a thing.”

Media are invited to cover the class as they work with Missouri Hotel residents from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. today and Thursday, and the reception on Friday. The reception is free and open to the public.

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