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Hannah Black Inspires Hope through her Art

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Hannah Black’s smile says it all.

 

Hannah with her beautiful art.
Hannah with her beautiful art.


Hannah recently sold her artwork and donated all proceeds to Inheritance of Hope in memory of her mother Laura. Hannah knows all too well the challenges IoH families face, as she lost her own mother to glioblastoma in April 2016.

 

Haleigh, Laura, and Reggie at their Orlando Legacy Retreat in August 2014.
Haleigh, Laura, and Reggie at their Orlando Legacy Retreat in August 2014.

 

In just three weeks, donations grew to $1,287, but the fundraiser had been in the works for quite some time. IoH was an easy choice for Hannah to support, as her family was served by the organization, and dad Reggie and sister Haleigh have volunteered at two Inheritance of Hope Legacy RetreatsⓇ.

 

Haleigh and Reggie paying it forward to other families as Legacy Retreat volunteers.
Haleigh and Reggie paying it forward to other families as Legacy Retreat volunteers.

 

Reggie is understandably proud of his daughter’s involvement, “Hannah is unable to volunteer with me and Haleigh, so this is her tribute to her mom and her way of contributing.”

 

Hannah, 21, attends Glenwood High School in Chatham, Illinois, just outside of Springfield. With the help and support of aide Beth Allen and teacher Nikki Brawner, adaptive art has become her favorite school subject.

 

When Hannah first began creating art, challenges included holding a pencil for long periods of time and having her hands touched. Since she experiences tactile sensations differently, Hannah often shies away from physical contact. Over the past two years, Hannah has been so successful at improving certain occupational therapy tasks and making new friends that she was the inspiration for Glenwood High School to offer adaptive art to all special ed students.

 

Beth Allen has been Hannah’s full-time aide at school for the past eight years. When they first began art class together, Hannah repeated similar themes and colors, but now, Beth describes, “Hannah is up for anything. Some days, she is in a black and brown mood, and some days it’s yellow and pink. She also chooses a wide variety of subject matter.”

 

Hannah is unable to use speech to communicate. With Beth, she raises her eyebrows to indicate “yes,” and holds a fixed stare to say “no.” Her eyesight is limited to objects within 12 inches of her line of sight, and beyond that, she can only register movement. Nevertheless, Hannah has found art to be a means of expressing emotion, appreciation, and affection. “That is the beauty of art,” says Beth. “It opens you up to so much.”

 

As a direct result of her efforts in art class, Hannah holds objects for much longer periods of time, is more accepting of certain physical contact--such as if others reach out to hold her hand or give her affection--and has made close friendships with class members, her teacher, and other aides.

 

When starting a new piece, Beth presents yes or no questions to develop color, media, and thematic choices. Then, Beth and Hannah use a “hand-over-hand” method for manipulating tools to achieve their results.

 

The results are beautiful. Hannah’s parents Reggie and Laura saved every single project she brought home. Last spring, Reggie took down many of the pictures in preparation for Hannah’s room to be painted. As he temporarily stored the drawings, paintings, and collages on the family's dining room table, an idea struck. He wondered if Hannah would be interested in selling some of her art to honor Laura.

 

Hannah’s creativity shines in her art.
Hannah’s creativity shines in her art.

 

The display on the dining room table caught the attention of everyone in the Black household, including Hannah’s dedicated caregivers. Penny Brown is a personal support worker for the Black family, comes every Friday night, and stays with Hannah while Reggie and Haleigh volunteer on IoH retreats. Penny has worked with the Blacks since Hannah was just five years old. Knowing how special Hannah and her art are, she thought Reggie’s idea was brilliant. She also had an idea of her own--to see if the local vocational school might be able to make frames for each piece.

 

Penny contacted a friend, Doug Dennis, who teaches Building Trades classes at Capital Area Career Center in Springfield. Doug’s class was excited for the opportunity to put their skills to such good use. He told Penny to bring the art to him--all 20 pieces.

 

Over the 2017-2018 school year, Doug’s students created custom frames for each piece. No two were alike. When the framed artwork was returned to the Black home, Reggie put it all up on a wall, posed a beaming Hannah in front, took a picture, and posted to Facebook. According to Reggie, “it wasn’t long before they started selling like crazy.” The pieces flew off the wall, some to people whom the family did not even know.

 

Students at the Capital Area Career Center help Hannah frame her artwork.
Students at the Capital Area Career Center help Hannah frame her artwork.

 

As the art started selling, Penny mentioned to Reggie, “Laura would be so proud.” He agreed.

 

Hannah’s generosity with her artwork extends to more than just her fundraising efforts for IoH. Often, when they finish a project, Beth suggests that Hannah might want to share it with someone. Hannah is always gracious and giving, Beth claims, but she does have opinions about whom each piece should go to. “And,” Beth adds, “she is always right. The pieces she gives are perfect for each recipient and the gift is always very appreciated.” Beth explains that for Hannah, much of the joy from creating art comes in the moment. A finished piece represents the challenge and delight of making something with someone she cares about, and she is always willing to share that joy.

 

She is also willing to share much more.

 

Recently, one of Hannah’s classmates lost her own mother. Hannah, Beth, and the classmate sat down together, and with Hannah’s permission, Beth told the young woman a little about Laura’s illness and Hannah’s loss. The young woman reached out to grab Hannah’s hand. Hannah turned her hand palm up in a gesture of opening, gently grasped her friend’s hand, and used her thumb to gently rub the back of her friend’s hand. The classmate, slightly taken aback, asked Beth, “What is she doing?”

 

Beth answered, “She is telling you she understands your pain, she is here for you, and will talk about it whenever you need to.” Hannah raised her eyebrows in agreement.

 

Angie Howell graduated from Davidson College, where she met Inheritance of Hope Co-Founder Kristen Grady Milligan the first week of their freshman year. In 2010, the two former hallmates got back in touch, and Angie became involved in IoH shortly afterwards. Angie has has served as a Legacy Retreat volunteer, Coordinator, and now, as Communications Manager, Angie helps tell the stories of IoH. She is constantly inspired by the people she meets in the IoH family. Read more Inheritance of Hope blogposts >>

 

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