More room to conduct art therapy
$450,000 state grant helps Amanda's Easel to expand
BY JENNIFER BRADSHAW • KEYPORT BUREAU • JUNE 27, 2008
HAZLET — For years, therapists at Amanda's Easel have used art as a way to heal children who have been abused. That job of helping children was done in a small, modest room inside a Hazlet building. "(For a while), we didn't even have a proper waiting room," said Cindi Westendorf, the program coordinator for Amanda's Easel. "(Clients) used to have to wait in their cars." With the help of a $450,000 state grant, the organization was able to expand the site from one room to three, providing room for art, dance and play therapy areas, as well as a waiting room, an office and storage space. It was also able to increase the staff. On Thursday, Westendorf, along with her colleagues, unveiled the expanded facility, located in the West Keansburg section of Hazlet. The art therapy program is part of 180 Turning Lives Around, a nonprofit agency that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Amanda's Easel facility is one of five locations that offers programs and assistance to victims and their families. Amanda's Easel is named in memory of Amanda Wengert, a 6-year-old from Manalapan who was kidnapped and slain by her neighbor, then 19-year-old Kevin Aquino, in 1994. To honor Amanda, her family, along with 180 Turning Lives Around, established Amanda's Easel. Westendorf said the therapy program has served about 130 children and 90 adults annually since its inception.
The funding for the expansion came from a $450,000 PALS (Peace A Learned Solution) grant administered through the state Department of Children and Families. It is a competitive grant awarded by the state, Westendorf said, and was given to the organization at the beginning of the year, after an application process. Laura Greenstone, assistant coordinator for Amanda's Easel, said the art therapy program is beneficial to both children and parents. Clients' projects are based in the therapeutic goals set for each family through case management, but the parents in the program are encouraged to use whatever materials they want to express themselves. "We're all trained as studio artists as well. We're equipped in everything," she said, gesturing to shelves stocked with beads, paint, clay, pencils and crayons. Decorating one wall of the art therapy space was a brightly colored mural, created by a group of 10 Henry Hudson Regional School students, who also helped clean out the new spaces and built storage cabinets and spaces in the middle art therapy space. "(We thought) it would be nice to help kids just like us," said senior Cassandra Tay, 17. Karen Wengert, Amanda's mother, said she was overwhelmed at the program's growth and success. "Amanda would be proud that something like this has grown in her memory," she said. Jennifer Bradshaw: (732) 888-2621 or firstname.lastname@example.org