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University of Kentucky students join with residents of homeless shelter for art project

Jeff Johnson held up the piece of art he helped make Wednesday. The art will be on display at the UK Student Center on Monday.
Jeff Johnson held up the piece of art he helped make Wednesday. The art will be on display at the UK Student Center on Monday. Lexington Herald-Leader

University of Kentucky student Taylor Adams was hesitant when her art teacher proposed spending two days a week at the Catholic Action Center's Community Inn homeless shelter to work with its residents on an art project.

Adams' perspective changed when she met Paula McCollum, a woman staying at the shelter, and began working with her on a painting of McCollum's yellow dream house.

"This has opened my mind," said the senior from Ashland. "It's made me less quick to make assumptions about people and why they are experiencing homelessness."

That was the intention of art teacher Marty Henton. Thirteen students have spent the past few weeks at the Community Inn, an experience that has profoundly changed them.

"We see homeless people in our community all the time, but now that we've had a chance to hear their stories ... it's been a really incredible experience," Henton said.

The students and residents are working together on a project called Streetvoice Art. Their paintings and drawings, which use blank yard signs as a canvas, will be displayed at UK next week during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

The students and Community Inn artists will hold a panel discussion about their experiences on Monday from 6-8 p.m. at the Student Center.

The week's activities also include a night where students can sleep outside the Student Center to simulate homelessness; blanket making and distribution; food collection; and community service at the Salvation Army, God's Pantry, the Hope Center and the Community Inn.

Christine Leistner is an adviser at the UK Center for Community Outreach, which is sponsoring the week's activities. She said she was thrilled with Henton's class.

"Part of what we do in general is to create experiences or trainings where there are eyes opened and it builds awareness and empathy," Leistner said. "A lot of students have never had to deal with those kinds of things. They have stereotypical ideas about the homeless and we know nobody has just one story."

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