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Wed, Nov. 20

Given a chance: homeless veterans find purpose in selling art

Navy Veteran Richard Findlay talks about his woodwork with Bessamac Cunningham Saturday afternoon, Nov. 28, during the Holiday Sale Arts & Crafts off Iron Springs Road in Prescott.

Navy Veteran Richard Findlay talks about his woodwork with Bessamac Cunningham Saturday afternoon, Nov. 28, during the Holiday Sale Arts & Crafts off Iron Springs Road in Prescott.

It wasn't big, but the Holiday Sale Arts and Craft show off of Iron Springs Road on Saturday, Nov. 28, went beyond artists simply making a buck. It helped reinforce constructive behavior among a population of creative minds who don't often have the means to show off their talents at such organized events.

Among the nearly 20 vendors were veterans, many of whom are homeless and were provided space at the craft show for free.

Along with her partner, homeless Air Force veteran Rachele Kelley was selling jewelry she personally crafted, something she has been doing for about 25 years.

She recently took shelter in the Prescott Veterans Affairs Domiciliary to help overcome some mental challenges and figure out a way to support herself going forward.

The Domiciliary is a residential treatment program for up to 120 veterans who have mental health and vocational goals that can be addressed during a short-term stay, up to 120 days, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Kelley said making and selling her goods has served as a mental anchor throughout much of her life.

"It's really therapeutic for me," Kelley said. "It just helps me deal with stress and thinking about bad stuff."

Jean Lutz organized the event. She has spent many years volunteering her time to assist struggling veterans and the homeless and she said it breaks her heart to see how disconnected the community is to the homeless.

"When I talk to people about homeless people, you can just see their eyes glaze over and you know they're thinking drunk, old, bum and all of those other stereotypes," Lutz said. "Yes, there are some of those out there, but some of these guys, they've just had horrible things happen to them and just can't get back on their feet. And you know, if you were homeless and had been through what they've been through, you'd probably be a drunk too. I know I probably would be."

About six years ago, Lutz created an organization called Everybody's Place. For a time, Lutz was providing the space, materials and knowledge for anyone (especially the homeless) wishing to learn an artistic craft in a judgment-free environment and then encouraging the participants to use that craft to supplement their lives.

"The idea was to take recyclable materials and upcycle them into other things that they can then sell," Lutz said. "They learn a skill, but they also learn marketing and budgeting and everything."

The effort has been on hiatus for a while since the space Lutz was using on Cortez Street became unavailable.

"When we lost that, I couldn't find another space because nobody wants 'those people' (the homeless) in their backyard," Lutz said.

Since then, she has continued working with veterans and the homeless individually and is now determined to occasionally organize events such as the Holiday Sale Arts and Craft show to provide a venue for them to sell their creations.

"With the crowd we're getting today, I'm just so excited," Lutz said. "I really hope they sell something."

Richard Findlay seemed to be selling quite a few of his handmade bird feeders and rocking horses. He's a Navy veteran who has had difficulty maintaining consistent shelter for about three years now.

Findlay is a vocational instructor who taught woodworking in Winslow at one point and now mostly works to sell his goods wherever he can.

"This keeps my mind stable," Findlay said. "It gives my hands something to do and when I'm done with it (a rocking horse) and give it to a kid and watch him just go tear it up and go for it, it just makes you feel good."

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105, or 928-642-7864.

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