New Grant helps Camillus House Art Therapy Program

Written By Josie Gulliksen
October 20, 2020 at 4:06 PM

Gary Allen, artist in residence at Camillus House who leads the Art Therapy Program, shown here in front of several colorful and powerful art pieces. Photo courtesy of Camillus House.

Art heals.

The proof is in the scientific evidence that Art Therapy has many benefits. The Camillus House administrators know these benefits all too well. Here is how they describe their program, which was established four years ago.

“The Art Therapy program aligns with Camillus House’s aim to reach and meet the homeless in Miami-Dade County and lift them out of their circumstance by providing programs and services with compassionate hospitality and respect. Participants embrace the weekly classes as a sanctuary where they create works of art to help heal and inspire themselves and others.”

The program recently received a financial boost thanks to a grant from long-time supporter Amerant Bank.

“We appreciate the generous support from Amerant for our impactful Arts Therapy program, which offers an average of 212 clients a choice of 1,433 classes annually in a variety of artistic mediums,” said Hilda M. Fernandez, CEO of Camillus House. “The program has shown to be an effective spiritual haven to those recovering from behavioral issues that underlie homelessness, and for those meeting the challenges of emotional and physical disabilities.”

Amerant Bank is thrilled to continue supporting the program. Beatriz Junco-Gonzalez, Corporate Communications & Social Responsibility Manager at Amerant Bank and Camillus House board member said “our partnership was a very natural match. We see what art can do to bring people together and give people hope through therapy like this. We’re lucky to have the space to do this.”

The application used in the art therapy program is a well-established therapeutic approach. Another benefit is that “we have the space to host the program here at Camillus House and have the help of a peer professional with experience in this type of therapy as approach and bring in a professional artist as well, all thanks to the help of Amerant Bank,” said Fernandez.

Running the program since its inception has been artist-in-residence Gary Allen, whose work has been featured at Camillus House. Although the program was shut down in March due to Covid-19, it was re-opened almost two months ago, with social distancing guidelines in place.

“The pandemic not only shut down the program, we also had to stop allowing folks from the Day Center entry,” said Fernandez. “We had allowed them to attend our Art Therapy Program as well but because of Covid, we had to limit the use of our Art Therapy room.”

Aside from supporting the Art Therapy Program, “Amerant’s ongoing support has enabled us to host two gallery exhibits featuring the work of both Camillus residents and street homeless,” said Hilda. “These artists were able to stand next to their art and have it purchased, giving their work worth and validation.”

“The artists feel such pride and it builds their self-esteem,” said Christine Perez, vice president of Development for Camillus House. “These were beautiful gallery showings.”

Helping to inspire, motivate and encourage the artists, who at first struggle with how to begin, is Gary, whose words and guidance are instrumental in helping them create their pieces.

“There was a girl in the program who was stumped and had no idea what to make. Gary stepped in and walked her through it, he spurred her on. She ended up creating a beautiful mosaic,” said Perez.

This is just one of the many heartwarming stories at Camillus House, where they also have a treatment program for adult victims/survivors of human trafficking.This program is “…the only residential treatment program of its kind,” said CEO Hilda Fernandez, as well as a program for unaccompanied homeless youth from 18 to 24 years old.

“Our Art Therapy is an incredible component we use with our residents,” said Fernandez; “These individuals are coming to us with major trauma.”

It’s a place where true healing happens “especially when they’re allowed the opportunity to explain their piece of art. That is when you realize these are very damaged souls. It is inspiring to see them healing this way,” said Fernandez.

Seeing their art displayed in the building’s Project Phoenix space is particularly rewarding. It allows the art therapy program to come full circle.

“Amerant’s support definitely keeps us going and enables us to buy all the supplies we need for the Art Therapy program as well as bring in professional instruction,” said Hilda.

And Amerant is thrilled to lend their support because “it is a quality, sincere therapy program that impacts their client’s lives, creating life-altering experiences. It is a true privilege for us to help,” said Junco-Gonzalez.

Click here to read more about the Camillus House Art Therapy Program and the many other programs offered at this amazing resource for those in need in Miami. is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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