Watch now: Moline organization ‘makes hope soar,’ invites community to craft birdhouses for people affected by cancer
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Watch now: Moline organization ‘makes hope soar,’ invites community to craft birdhouses for people affected by cancer

The Living Proof Exhibit offers the therapeutic benefits of the arts to those impacted by cancer. Now, the community can help its cause with its latest efforts: creating birdhouses.

The Moline-based organization recently launched Make Hope Soar: The Birdhouse Project. Folks in the community may build or decorate birdhouses to be distributed to cancer patients, their loved ones and people who work in cancer centers throughout the Quad-Cities, according The Living Proof Exhibit’s website, livingproofexhibit.org/post/makehopesoar.

It was “what I did when I was first diagnosed (with breast cancer) in 2008,” Living Proof Exhibit Executive Director Pamela Crouch said. “I became socially isolated,” she said, so “I painted birdhouses,” complete with pink roofs, hearts and flowers, and “gave them away to newly diagnosed patients. And I found that you can’t really be sad when you’re painting birdhouses; it’s just a happy little activity. And also by doing for others, it makes you feel better.”

A “grassroots” Living Proof Exhibit was founded in 2010 when Crouch met Mary Ellen Cunningham through the Quad City Breast Cancer Support Group. Group leader Barb Lynch knew Crouch was working on birdhouses and that Cunningham had just entered some artwork into an exhibition.

“I just looked at her (Cunningham) and said ... ‘We should put on a show,’ ” Crouch said. “She just kind of said, ‘OK.’ ”

Its first art show was in October 2010, and the organization had a five-year plan to offer creative sessions for cancer survivors. But “our five-year plan turned into November of 2010 because we had people who were really interested,” Crouch said.

In 2015, it became a 501(c)(3)-designated organization so it could receive funding, form partnerships and extend its reach.

“We’ve grown so much in just a few years,” Crouch said.

Today, the organization reaches some 7,000 people each year with its programs, such as creative sessions, “where we teach an art medium that people can then use to reduce stress,” Crouch said; exhibitions of cancer-survivor artwork; Art-to-Go Boxes with watercolor supplies and instructions for folks who have to socially isolate, especially in light of COVID-19; and virtual, docent-led tours in partnership with the Figge Art Museum.

“When your hands are busy, your mind and heart can calm, and then by reducing stress, it does allow the body to heal,” Crouch said.

Some of its programs are on pause right now because of COVID-19, so it also hosts virtual meetings with Gilda’s Club, which are later posted to its YouTube channel (bit.ly/366G4TY). Crouch said the organization was lucky it could continue and adapt its programming during this time — including launching “Make Hope Soar” a little early.

The organization realized that “this is something that people (and) families who are isolated can work together on,” Crouch said, adding that friends and family also may work from wherever they are while video chatting so they can be “separate but still together.”

And you don’t have to be an expert craftsman or skilled artist to join in. “I want people to feel free to (use) whatever art medium that they want to use,” Crouch said, whether that’s paint, markers or crayons. It’s a project for all ages and skill levels, and is all about “the idea that you are connecting,” she said, and knowing that “you’re going to make a difference in somebody else’s life.”

Once the birdhouse is complete, “on the bottom of each birdhouse, we are encouraging people to write inspirational messages … of encouragement and of hope.” Messages should be universal so they may include those who are battling cancer to friends and family members who are going through the battle with them.

Then, completed birdhouses may be dropped off by Sept. 18. Keep tabs on the organization’s website for drop-off locations. Birdhouses will be on display during the opening celebration of The Living Proof Exhibit's 10th annual cancer-survivor art exhibition at the Figge on Sept. 24.

The idea is to “make hope soar,” Crouch said. “We need hope right now, and we’re all in this together, even though we’re separate.”

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Pamela Crouch, The Living Proof Exhibit's executive director, and the organization poses for a portrait in her home office in Moline, May 14, 2020.

For more information, visit livingproofexhibit.org/post/makehopesoar. To participate, email livingproofexhibit@gmail.com and visit the website.

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