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Students’ artistic creations raise funds, awareness for community laundry project


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The leap from Robin Lethbridge’s interest in art to ensuring that some of the basic needs of Ottawans are met may, on the surface, seem a wide chasm. But that distance narrowed considerably as Lethbridge and other artistically minded high school students put their talents on display recently in the centre court at St. Laurent shopping mall to raise funds, and awareness, for the Community Laundry Cooperative.

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A Grade-12 Merivale high school student, Lethbridge is part of the Specialist High Skills Major program, or SHSM (typically pronounced “shism”), which encourages Ontario students to pursue areas of particular interest to them — the arts, in Lethbridge’s case — to earn credits towards their high school diplomas while also gaining practical job skills.

SHSMs are available in nearly 20 sectors, including arts and culture, agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, construction, aviation and aerospace, hospitality and tourism, and sports.

“I’ve learned a lot of things that I’ve never done, like screen printing,” said Lethbridge. “And we’re learning a lot about like the business side of art, so all of that is making me feel a lot more confident when I later go into the workforce.”

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Friday’s fundraiser was organized by DeSerres, the art supplies store at St. Laurent and a partner in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s SHSM program. Through DeSerres, professional artist Max K Black has been working with the program’s summer co-op students.

“The program gets professional artists in the field to work with students so that they can develop their skills as professional artists, learn business of art and learn how to actually succeed, and working with DeSerres to create artwork that is then helpful to our community,” said Black.

Merivale High School student Isabella McDowell works on a screen printing at the St. Laurent Shopping Centre in Ottawa on Friday. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia
Merivale High School student Isabella McDowell works on a screen printing at the St. Laurent Shopping Centre in Ottawa on Friday. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia

Not every student will become a professional artist, she added, but each will learn how to apply their creativity to other tasks, including such things as design and marketing.

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“Being a creative person, you’re going to use those skills in whatever industry you go into. And that’s a huge part; understanding that your creativity and your abilities, and using these art materials and thinking in a creative out-of-the-box way, is going to give you a massive edge when you move forward in life. Because as creative people, we need to understand that that is a huge part of industry.”

“These,” said Thomas Baribault, manager at DeSerres, who has been involved in the SHSM program for about 15 years, “are real skills that they learn and can use in all walks of life afterwards.”

Meanwhile, Community Laundry Cooperative executive director Phil Robinson said the fundraiser, which included 120 hand-painted sketchbooks on sale for $20 each, will help the organization, which receives some funding through the city, but not enough to cover all its expenses.

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“We’re also hoping that with this event, we’ll be able to talk to people who would benefit from accessing our services. So we’re lucky that Thomas (Baribault) really took a shine to us and approached us about working together with the co-op students. We really appreciate the support.”

Formed almost 25 years ago, the Laundry Co-op is a charity that largely serves clients living below the poverty line, including seniors, new Canadians, single parents, those experiencing homelessness or who have physical, developmental, substance use, and mental health challenges. Out of its McArthur Avenue home, it provides inexpensive self-serve laundry facilities — two dollars for a wash and dry, including detergent and a coffee. It also hires people who face employment barriers to do laundry for individuals and small businesses. Not insignificantly, the co-op also has a social worker on staff who can steer interested customers to other community supports.

“We have a social service worker who can provide counselling,” said Robinson. “We help people access the food bank. Housing is a big issue. And health issues, particularly with a lot of new Canadians trying to find a doctor that speaks their first language.

“People come because they want clean clothes, but we do a lot of referrals.”

Visit communitylaundrycoop.ca for more information.

bdeachman@postmedia.com

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