DESTIN — Over the past two years, a couple hundred of the area's wounded warriors have participated in the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation's Warrior Arts program as an adjunct to their other therapies.
The program has been so successful that the foundation now is working to raise more than $20,000 to expand its reach and to keep it free for the active-duty military personnel and veterans who are referred to Warrior Arts.
"It's a fast-growing program," explained Melanie Moore, education director with the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation.
The centerpiece of Warrior Arts is a drawing class that uses the Zentangle Method — the drawing of repetitive patterns to produce an individualized piece of art. "Zentangle" combines the words "Zen" and "tangle" — the word used for the lines produced while drawing — to illustrate both the meditative and artistic aspects of the method. Zentangle was developed by two Massachusetts artists who have since formed a small company to spread their approach to artistic expression.
"You need absolutely no artistic skills," Moore said.
The program is available as a series of classes, or as a single 90-minute class. Most participants opt for the single 90-minute class, Moore said, but in either case, the program equips participants to continue drawing on their own, with materials provided as part of the class.
The foundation doesn't actively seek out wounded warriors on its own for the Warrior Arts program, relying instead on local active-duty military units and veterans' organizations to steer troops and veterans to the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation.
"They vet their own members," Moore said. That way, she explained, the foundation doesn't have to handle the delicate, and sometimes problematic, work of assessing potential participants' mental or physical issues and needs.
But the Zentangle Method does have some clear benefits, particularly fore people dealing with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to Moore.
For TBI patients, Zentangle drawing "helps with eye-hand coordination and perception," she said. And, she added, the process requires a degree of focus and concentration that can give PTSD patients some relief from their struggles.
"It's just a different modality for healing," Moore said. "Improvisational thinking is allowed — and encouraged."
Moore has been surprised by the interest in Warrior Arts.
"It's grown faster than I would have imagined," she said.
Most of the enthusiastic feedback that Moore gets about the program comes from Special Operations troops, and she has an idea as to why it is popular among those kinds of soldiers and airmen.
"It kind of resembles tattoo art," she said.
Testimonials from Special Operations troops who have taken the course don't necessarily mention that, however.
"As a 23-year veteran, with 14 combat deployments, adapting back into the civilian world can be difficult for both the member and the family," one Special Operations airman told the foundation. "The art technique that Miss Melanie introduced has helped me both focus and obtain the inner calmness I need. I brought the art set home your foundation provided and enjoy sharing the meditative process with my 10-year-old daughter."
In recent weeks, the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation has been using its Warrior Arts Wall — a wall decorated with envelopes labeled with monetary amounts from $1 to $200 set up at public events — to encourage donations. That effort has generated $12,100 of the foundation's $20,100 goal, and the organization is continuing to work toward that final tally.
"We still are willing to take donations," said Marcia Hull, CEO of the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation. Anyone interested in making a donation to Warrior Arts can call the foundation at (850) 650-2226, Hull said.