Linda Wehrli has been volunteering her time with CoachArt students since 2003. A little background on CoachArt and how Linda got involved are revealed in the interview by Andrea Frazer of the “Community Connection” below.
Community Connection, Vol 10, No. 4 – April 2013
By Andrea Frazer
Linda Wehrli, founder and teacher of Pastimes for a Lifetime, Inc., had been teaching art and piano for over ten years at her Valley Glen cottage studio when she got a phone call from CoachArt. Introducing themselves as an organization that offers weekly art and athletic instruction to children with chronic and life threatening illnesses, they were just starting their company.
They were interested in adding Wehrli to their teaching roster.
The only catch? They couldn’t pay her. In fact, as part of their overall business plan, they weren’t planning on ever paying her. It would be done purely out of love for the arts and to serve a community that was so often ignored or simply couldn’t afford art lessons on top of their already huge medical bills.
For anyone dealing with the time and expenses of running a small business, this might seem a preposterous proposal. But for Wehrli, whose business tagline is, “Developing the artistic mind since 1989”, she wasn’t deterred.
“I had never heard of anybody or any organization doing this,” Wehrli commented, “But the person who called me – Leah Bernthal (co-founder with Zander Lurie) was so passionate. The idea of offering solace and healing through art to sick children seemed so right. Plus, Leah was so professional. She was so organized. I couldn’t say no.”
She goes on to add, “Later on, CoachArt included siblings in their mission statement, and I love that also, because often times the healthy sibling’s needs get unintentionally pushed aside due to the overwhelming needs
of their sick brother and sister.” She modestly adds, “I might inspire the students, but they certainly inspire me.”
Thyonne Gordon, Executive Director of the Los Angeles branch of CoachArt, echoed Wehrli’s sentiment. “CoachArt touches the lives of everyone involved. These fantastic volunteers who mentor children get just as much out of it as the parents of the sick kids.” In our fractured society where people often don’t interact with their neighbors, let alone their own friends or family, CoachArt offers the much needed balm of community outreach to isolated families on a weekly basis. Plus, it’s free – a real gift for families smothering under the weight of health and caretaking expenses.
“The real heart of this program is finding people within folks’ own neighborhood to build connections,” Gordon says. She goes on to say that parents often struggle, not just with the amount of time spent caring for a special needs child, but with the sadness of feeling alone. It’s not uncommon for them to find out through volunteer teachers at CoachArt that another child – sometimes only a mile away – is dealing with the same challenges as their youngster. And while no empathetic human wishes burdens on another person, it’s wonderfully reassuring to finally find someone else to relate to.
Thyonne is thrilled with the progress they have made in many communities such as the North Valley, but she is determined to outreach even further to underserved communities. “We are really reaching out to lower economic areas because there is just as much talent there that needs to be tapped and it’s so needed.”
Thyonne might be an executive director at a business, but her mind is as open as Wehrli’s. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I can cook!’ or ‘I am a gardener!’” she gleefully recounts. “That’s a gift, and we can use it!” she exclaims.
CoachArts serves children and their siblings ages 6 – 18. They provide all the equipment, too. Many students continue for years afterwards due to the burst of hope this program offers them.
Like any non-profit which is created to serve a need, CoachArt does not thrive based on good intention. Donations are always welcome, as well as volunteer teachers of all mediums. People can call them at 213-736-2850 or go to www.coachart.org . But beware of Gordon’s parting words,
“Watch out, because the life you improve just might be your own.”
For information on Wehrli’s piano and art studio, visit www.pastimesinc.com.
Andrea Frazer is a produced TV, magazine and newspaper writer who is finishing up a book on Tourette Syndrome. More of her writing can be found at www.happilytickedoff.com. Email her at BabyCenterAndrea@Gmail.com.