On any given Tuesday, you can find Ann Tabony at The Well Community serving as a volunteer art teacher, helping Well members who deal with mental illnesses learn how to paint, draw and explore other forms of creativity.
The art program is one of many opportunities for people in the Metroplex to help make a lasting difference in the lives of those who come to the Well to find a safe place to escape stigma and isolation. Not only do volunteers like Tabony make a tremendous impact on Well members, most who serve say they leave feeling transformed. “We get much more than we give,” is a common refrain.
Tabony began volunteering 11 years ago at The Well. It drew her interest because from childhood, she’d felt a deep sense of empathy toward the marginalized in her community—be they fellow classmates struggling in her school or the homeless who sat at the back of her church on Sunday mornings. When Tabony retired from her job as a physics teacher at Lake Highlands High School, she began filling her newfound time with printmaking classes. Soon she started teaching art at The Well on Tuesdays. Tabony has never looked back.
“When I first started, I was exhausted,” she admits. Communication was often difficult. Determining what kind of arts and crafts to teach was a challenge. But soon, Tabony fell in love with the work and the people. “I was euphoric,” she said. “I would feel like I’d been a runner and had that high.” One reason for her enthusiasm? Seeing The Well members’ artwork thrive. “We just get beautiful images from it,” she said. “Lovely, lovely things.”
Tabony teaches a variety of art forms, including sculpture, clay work, ceramics and, perhaps most popular, scratchboard. And the members love it. They find a place of calm as they focus on their pieces. “After an hour, they feel good,” she says.
Tabony doesn’t see her work as that of a therapist or even someone teaching a fun hobby. Rather, she tries to teach practical skills that Well members can use to create art that sells. Indeed, some of the art has sold. One member’s work was featured in Café Brazil in Oak Cliff. She believes there are other creations that could have some commercial value.
The focus on teaching practical skills is empowering rather than enabling, says Tabony. “I like to have them to have one place where they go where they’re treated like I would treat another person,” she says. “This is a forgotten group of people. This is the group of people that society wants to push aside,” says Tabony. “They can’t make a living. It’s impossible for them to keep a job.” So she is committed to helping some develop their artistic talents, and all develop a renewed sense of dignity.
Tabony urges anyone interested in volunteering to give The Well a try. Mental health issues often draw unwanted attention to Well members. “And what do they do when they stand out?” asks Tabony. “The Well is there for them.”
Want to volunteer?
The Well is looking for volunteers! A small commitment has a great impact on the lives of those who deal with mental illness in Oak Cliff. We are always looking for new volunteers to help serve at our events. Think you might be interested? Don’t hesitate to call or email! We would love to answer your questions and find the best place for you to use your unique gifts.