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  • Writer's pictureAlex Vogelsong

Who is inspiring who?

A reflection from BuildaBridge's residency at the New Day New Home Shelter

The conclusion of BuildaBridge’s recent session with Salvation Army’s New Day New Home shelter program culminated in truly joyous exchange of art, music, and positivity. Over the last six weeks, returning faces came and went at will— each reunion a pleasant surprise, just as welcomed as new participants who joined us. These lessons were crafted with the intention to assist others in their recovery processes by way of meaningful artistic expression... However, they ultimately served to set the stage for a compellingly sincere and endearing group of women and non-binary individuals to share their inner light and wisdom with us through words, song, and visual art making.

Each session, we brought aboard a different medium with varied prompts to encourage cathartic creation and discussion. In this instance, it was just one of those magically dynamic pairings wherein participants were eagerly enthusiastic about the process and readily poured their radiant hearts and wise perspective with us. “The past is history, tomorrow is a mystery,” spoke one participant who immediately made her presence known and appreciated by way of wearing jingling anklets to the session. She, and others, spoke so highly of their optimism for their recovery journeys— it felt as though they too were teaching lessons and blessings right back at us. And such fun, too— the one wearing musical anklets ran with the traditional BuildaBridge welcome song that had us all dancing and clapping for an extra verse as she free-styled a bit.

I hope to never forget the experience of seeing this group light up with earnest excitement to grab tambourines and the like, to play along with “Oh Happy Day,” as inspired by one of their daily morning phone alarm song. She’d shared that as one of her tips for an energizing morning, so we teaching artists figured there was no better track to celebrate the end of this program and usher in positive visions for the future. “THIS IS MY SONG!” she exclaimed before rocking a spin-turn and dancing with maracas alongside the others. A Salvation Army staff member happened to arrive just at the ending hurrah of the final moments of the song, and the joyous vibrations in the room were clearly infectious— as their smile was visible even from under their mask.

The quieter moments of more somber art creation felt just as valuable. Participants expressed appreciation for getting to try new ways to uncover and utilize their creative voices— and for the ways in which this supports healthy emotional processing. My hope is for more programming like this to reach more places doing this work. Gratitude flows; for BuildaBridge, Salvation Army, and for these inspiring individuals.

Alex Vogelsong (she/they) is a teaching & performing artist based in NW & W Philadelphia. This is her fourth year working with BuildaBridge, during which time she’s primarily focused on improvisation in a theatrical and musical sense as an instructor. Percussion is perhaps her dearest held passion in and out of classrooms.

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