Carl is one of our most talented and prolific artists whose favorite subjects include landscapes and houses.
Born in Jamaica, Carl moved to the DC area when he was 12. He’s always been interested in creating art and despite his mother discouragement,he didn’t let that stop him from drawing. During his teen years, he began using drugs until, at 19 he overdosed and collapsed on the street. “If they [the people who called for an ambulance] found me 20 minutes later, I wouldn’t be here. I think God must have had another plan for me.”
During his hospitalization, Carl took an art class and was fortunate to meet an art instructor who took the time to work on his technical skills. Today, Carl gets his inspiration from visiting museums, walking around the city, and taking in what he sees around him. And though he’s lived here for the better part of his life, there is clearly a Jamaican vibe in his use of color and style.
“When I paint, I feel like I’m inventing something…I identify with the art that I’m trying to create.” Though he never feels his pieces are really complete, he gets a deep feeling of satisfaction knowing he’s making art.
Carl’s art will be featured at McClendon Center’s May 5 Art of Transformation event at Toolbox in the heart of Dupont Circle. Click HERE for event information and to purchase your ticket.
“Coming to McClendon makes me whole. To be an inspiration to my peers… to come here and take the saddest person at the table and make them laugh and smile, that’s what I want. I’m always going to make you laugh. That’s just me. I’ve got to keep laughing in here [pointing to his heart].”
You can’t miss Frank during our Friday morning Day Program showcases – he’s the one getting clients out of their seats and up on their feet to join in the dancing. And if he can’t them to join in, he’ll at least get them to smile and clap along. That’s Frank. He helps clients come out of their shells, he represents them by being a member of the Client Advisory Board, he speaks up and voices his opinions to make change happen. Earlier this year, Frank was interviewed for McClendon Center’s first video and when praised for his role, his demeanor became solemn. “When I did that interview, I had a responsibility to represent 850 people. That’s an honor; that’s a privilege.”
Frank grew up the second oldest of seven children. His hyperactivity and affinity toward climbing up unspeakable heights (like the water tower behind his aunt’s house) and jumping off rooftops alarmed his mother so much that she took to see a psychiatrist when he was around 7 or 8. Luckily, despite his need to “always try and get to the top” of things and what he describes as “suicidal things” in his life, Frank managed never to break a bone or seriously hurt himself. When he was 12, he said his father stopped being a father. “He was abusive to my mother and, in turn, he was abusive to me because I looked like her.” Many times his father would lose the rent money at racetrack and Frank was often the one left on the street, fighting people off from stealing their belongings and enduring the jeers of friends because they had been put out again. Other little pieces of his story reveal that he had been molested by his babysitter; he felt hurt and abandoned by his sister who left home without explanation; burdened with the responsibility of looking out for the rest of his siblings; and that drugs had made its way into family life.
At some time or another, he and his brothers all spent time in jail. Frank, however, spent the most time in and out of the system. It was after his final time in jail that left him with a heavy sense of guilt. Mirroring his own childhood, his 8-year old son was left behind with the responsibility of being the man of the house. By the time Frank was released, his son was 16 and headed in a downward spiral that eventually landed him in jail with a 25-year sentence. “I missed out on being a father to him. And you can’t get that time back. I felt it was my fault because I wasn’t there to teach him how to be a proper man.” But, at the same time, Frank feels that it was blessing. “Because of who he [his son] was running with, his friends were getting killed almost every week. If my son had been on the street, he would have been killed too.”
But the past is the past. Today, Frank is the father of five (including his son who will be released in 2017) and a grandfather. After surviving a major heart attack, he believes that God has a purpose for him. That his life has meaning. He wants to people to know that McClendon Center is a big part of that purpose. He wants clients, who may be just beginning their journey toward recovery, to know that McClendon Center is their family and that they won’t be judged for being different or a little rough around the edges. He wants the public to be kind and compassionate — “I want them to know that a person can walk around for a long time without even knowing thy have a mental illness. A lot of times it takes something tragic to trigger it. And that’s the saddest thing.” And he wants everyone to know that after doing things for everyone else, he is doing this [coming to McClendon Center] for himself.
“I love being able to interact with the clients on a daily basis. Some days are more challenging than others but I still would not trade it for anything in the world.”
If you’ve ever called or visited our Core Service Agency on North Capitol, chances are you were greeted by Terraia’s warm smile and welcoming personality. Despite the steady stream of clients checking in, relentless ringing of the phone, intermittent door buzzer, and questions and requests from staff, Terraia doesn’t miss a beat nor does she lose her friendly demeanor. “I love this girl…she’s just amazing,” one client is quick to point out.
Terraia readily admits that being an office coordinator for a mental health provider was not part of her professional goals. “When I was in high school, my dream job was to be a cosmetologist and own my own hair salon.” She worked in retail and at a salon but when the economy became unstable she knew she needed to find something with more financial security. She landed a job working with people with disabilities who had a broad spectrum of needs – many who were medically fragile, some who had mental and behavioral disorders. And that’s when it hit her. She had found her calling.
Still, it has to be hard to stay so upbeat each day – especially with a job that demands so much patience and tact. “I always keep how I would like to be treated in mind. I feel like something could easily happen to me and it’d be me who needs help, who needs medication management or a case manager. I believe that you have to remain humble in everything you do.”
“I didn’t grow up going to the best schools or wearing the latest clothes. I grew up mostly like the people we serve. My mom was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and we moved around a lot. Sometimes we didn’t even have a home. So I easily could be on the other side of the desk. I feel you have to remain humble; you have to walk in love. It’s what I try to do daily. Basically,” she says, “they [the clients] come here to get help and I’m here to help them in any way I can.”
“This work – helping others – this is my passion.”
Our hats off to Terraia — and all of our McClendon Center staff — who work daily to help change the lives of our clients.