Dietrick Gay smiles as he selects a paint brush in the Artistic Realization Technology (A.R.T.) Studio. The program uses a laser and non-verbal cues to allow the artist to direct the process from the size of the brushes to each and every paint stroke on the canvas. Using this technology, people with severe physical challenges can create beautiful works of art. (Photo courtesy of Blossom Philadelphia)

by Sue Ann Rybak

After 70 years of serving its community as United Cerebral Palsy of Philadelphia (UCP), the organization decided earlier this year to to change its name to Blossom Philadelphia.

The name was changed, according to Paula Czyzewski, Blossom CEO, to better reflect the nonprofit’s services and mission, which has evolved and grown since it was first founded in 1946 by six parents who wanted a better life for their children who had been born with cerebral palsy.

“Last year, we launched a strategic planning project to take the pulse of how our name and logo have stood the test of time and to frame up a five-year plan that would allow us to better serve the adults and children with disabilities in the Philadelphia area,” Czyzewski said. “We looked to a team of clients, volunteer board members, staff, parents, donors and families to help us understand not just our history, but what we wanted for our future.

“We discussed a lot of issues with respect to the agency. One of the things that consistently came up was the confusion around our name and the services we provide,” she said. “Many people thought we only provided services to people with cerebral palsy.”

After “an extensive conversation” with stakeholders, Czyzewski said, the organization decided it was no longer going to be an affiliate of United Cerebral Palsy. She said its new name, Blossom Philadelphia and tagline “Independence Grows Here.” captures the organization’s mission “to help people with disabilities create the life they want to live.”

She said the organization will publicly launch Blossom Philadelphia’s new brand at its Second Annual Strokes of Genius Art Auction on Thursday, Nov. 9, at The Legacy House, the original Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting House, 102 E. Mermaid Lane in Philadelphia.

“Strokes of Genius Art Auction is a mission-focused fundraising event highlighting our Artistic Realization Technologies (A.R.T.) program where our supporters get to see firsthand the impact their generosity is having on the people we serve, and we get to celebrate our artist’s beautiful works of art,” she added.

The A.R.T. program is just one example of how Blossom Philadelphia is helping people with disabilities express themselves and gain a sense of autonomy in their life.

Czyzewski said that because the technology is primarily focused on the artist’s vision, “it’s really an expression of what they are thinking.”

She said the technology allows the artist to convey a clear “yes” or “no” however they are able to do that. For example, if they can nod their head or blink their eyes differently for “yes” and “no,” they can paint working one-on-one with a “tracker.” The artist can use the laser to tell the tracker where to put paint on the canvas.

She recalled how someone once referred to the tracker as the artist, and the artist sitting in the wheelchair said: “Wait, a minute. She’s not the artist. I am the artist. If you have a question about the painting, you should be asking me. It’s mine.”

“And again, it’s that whole piece about ownership, autonomy and control,” Czyzewski said. “That is their work, and they are the ones who can speak to that. And that means so much to somebody who has never had that opportunity.”

Blossom Philadelphia hopes to expand the program and eventually use the technology to help clients create music, do photography, cook or create a sculpture.

“There are so many ways we can use this technology,” Czyzewski said. “We are hoping through this fundraising event that we get enough resources to build the program. It could expand beyond painting to people who have other interests. I think for all the artists; the program has been altering.”

For more information about Blossom Philadelphia’s Second Annual Strokes of Genius Art Auction or to buy tickets, go to www.blossomphiladelphia.org or call 215-242-4200, X-289.

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