College of Communication and Fine Arts
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Professor Teaches Resilience to Homeless Families

“I learned a different way to read to my children.”

“I learned how to spend quality time with my children.”

“I learned how to be patient.”

“I learned how to be creative.”

Phrases like these seem ordinary to many families. For the homeless, communication and family bonding are not normal activities. When alcohol or substance abuse is involved, the relationship is particularly stressed.

In an effort to help, Dr. Donalyn Heise, professor in the Department of Art, and Dr. Laurie MacGillivray, professor of Literacy in the College of Education, are working with mothers and children in this situation who are living in a long-term family shelter thanks to funding from a Strengthening Communities grant.

“When I was hired to teach art education at the University of Memphis, the program prepared students to teach art in K12 schools,” Dr. Heise said. “I wanted students to realize that important partnerships are possible that benefit community and can address societal issues. I developed a community art course at the undergraduate and graduate level to provide community art experiences such as this one.”

Heise teamed up with Dr. MacGillivray after hearing about her impressive literacy work with homeless families.

“I knew we had to collaborate,” she said. “It has been a joy to work with her and combine our expertise in literacy and art.”

The intergenerational program focuses on fostering resilience through art and literacy. The hope is that their program will benefit the participating mothers and children, empowering them to have a voice while dispelling negative stereotypes of homelessness and fostering resilience.

“One thing I can say for sure is that it has been such a gift for us to get to know these incredible families. These women are extremely resilient,” Dr. Heise said. “They have survived challenges we cannot imagine, and they are here taking the necessary steps to improve their lives and the lives of their children. They inspire me tremendously.”

Resilience Study Comments Graphic

Through the Strengthening Communities Grant, the families received art materials and books, as well as funds for field trips to libraries and art galleries. An engaged scholarship model, undergraduate and graduate students worked collaboratively to create new models of dissemination. For example, families have been invited to be guest speakers in methods classes at the University.

“Laurie and I serve as researchers and the data collected thus far has been positive,” Heise said. “We hope to secure external funding to continue this program.”

According to Heise, this has been a life-changing program for the mothers. At the end of the pilot session, the families were asked how they would define resilience and one mother responded, “You go forward with it no matter how hard it is or how challenging.”

For more information, contact Heise at 901.678.3052.

Child participating in resilience study activityA young resilience study participant works during one of the session exercises.

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Last Updated: 3/11/13