Art Changes Life: Vet Finds Healing, Hope Through Resident Art Program at Joseph's Home
Two weeks before Christmas of 2011, Roderick Walden lost his home of 36 years.
For nine years, the former U.S. Air Force missile mechanic had struggled to hold onto to his Collinwood home. In 2002, a string of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and other ailments left him unable to work.
Walden, now in his late 50s, didn’t have a pension and failed to qualify for Social Security but managed to scrape by for awhile on rental income from his Collinwood-area duplex.
Then, a series of sewer backups exhausted all of his resources. After having to replace two furnaces and two water heaters several times, he didn’t have enough cash left to pay his property taxes and maintain the house.
Too weak to do anything more strenuous than walk short distances, he was forced to watch as his house was auctioned.
Walden traded a house for a Cleveland homeless shelter where he at least found refuge from the streets. But he quickly found that the shelter system was not equipped to help him get well and out of the shelter. There were two caseworkers for 60 shelter guests, and they simply didn’t have the time to help him manage his care and help create a plan to find permanent housing.
To complicate things while at the shelter, in eight weeks of eating shelter food, Walden's cholesterol skyrocketed. His doctor at the VA Medical Center told him that he would die if he continued to live in the shelter.
Fortunately, the shelter staff knew about Joseph’s Home, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System which provides transitional living for homeless men with serious medical needs.
In early 2012, Walden had three stents inserted into blocked arteries. He went to Joseph’s Home shortly afterward with the hope that he would be able to complete his physical therapy, regain his strength, and find a better living arrangement.
At Joseph’s Home, Walden found a safe, clean shelter and a compassionate, supportive staff who could oversee his care.
He was surprised and thrilled to also discover the Joseph’s Home Resident Arts Program, led by former Joseph’s Home Board Chair Bill Denihan. Every Saturday, Denihan, CEO of the ADAMHS board of Cuyahoga County, volunteers his time to teach and mentor Joseph’s Home residents and alumni who want to use painting as a constructive creative outlet.
“Our goal here at Joseph’s Home is not just to get homeless men into permanent housing, but to help them rediscover their purpose and passion for living,” said Georgette Jackson, executive director at Joseph's Home. “Once that has happened, they are much more likely to continue doing what they need to do to stay housed and healthy.”
Walden had dreamed of a career in commercial art years ago. Although his plans to get a degree and full-time job in the field had long since stalled, he had continued drawing and painting as a hobby, and had done some painting jobs on the side. But because of his illness and financial problems it had been a long time since he last painted.
The days that followed his admission to Joseph’s Home were a time of remarkable change for Walden. His three new stents all succeeded. The Joseph’s Home nurse made sure he took all his medications and got to his physical therapy appointments. The Joseph’s Home cook served healthy meals which helped him get his cholesterol back down to an acceptable level and he even lost 15 pounds.
“They kept me steered right,” Walden recalls.
Free from the constant fatigue caused by his heart disease, he painted as much and as often as he could, finding new inspiration in an old passion. "When I picked up a brush for the first time in ten years, it felt like an awakening," Walden said. His talent and enthusiasm were obvious right from the start. Other artists offered to collaborate with him, and four of his paintings were sold at the Joseph’s Home 12th Anniversary Luncheon.
Recently, Walden’s prospects for the future improved even more. He found out that he would start receiving Social Security, and a family member invited him to live with him rent-free for the foreseeable future.
Just six months after his first night in a homeless shelter, Walden graduated from Joseph’s Home with restored health, a predictable income and stable housing. Plus, his rediscovery of art has given him an energy and enthusiasm for life that had been absent for a long time. The only thing that rivals his love of painting is his joy in watching his three grandchildren and godson grow up.
“I want to be around for them,” he says.
The Resident Art Program is just one of the programs that Joseph’s Home offers to help acutely ill homeless men heal and achieve independence. Go to www.josephshome.com to learn more. Or attend the Joseph’s Home Fall 2012 Open House on Sunday, Sep. 30 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 2412 Community College Ave. No RSVP necessary. Call Development Manager Nathan Munn at 216-875-4634 for more information.
Nathan Munn is development manager at Joseph's Home.