As a teaching assistant in the Blue Umbrella art classroom at the Conway Human Development Center, Danielle Dority helps residents make pieces that will eventually be sold at the Little Rock gift shop.
Part of the fun, she says, is helping these artisans come up with that idea for a piece that will inspire them and reflect their personality and interests.
“I love the flexibility that I have to get with a client and say, ‘OK we have choices, what do you want to do? What is it you like to create?” Dority says, recalling a time when a resident who loves flamingos realized he could channel that into his pieces: “The first time we created a door hanger that was a flamingo, I mean he was absolutely just beside himself because we did something with a flamingo on it. He just loved that.”
Dority has worked at CHDC for more than 10 years, and she’s developed a reputation in the Blue Umbrella classroom as a creator who inspires clients and helps them produce artwork that not only showcases their creativity, but can earn them a few extra bucks too. Proceeds from each piece sold at the Blue Umbrella go right back to the artisan who made it.
That creative process is what drives Dority. She enjoys painting, has a booth where she sells items she creates at a local farmer’s market and has worked on some of the center’s art-related activities like the Christmas parade.
And creativity is of course a constant in the Blue Umbrella classroom.
“That’s what helps me keep going,” she says. “I know that people have reasons why they go to jobs, and this is my reason. I love to create, and I love to be with people that like to create. It makes me a better person, it makes me a better creator. I just enjoy that, and I enjoy our residents and seeing them being excited about being able to take something to the Blue Umbrella.”
Brittany Wood, rehabilitation instructor at CHDC, works closely with Dority on Blue Umbrella projects. She says the residents enjoy Dority’s teaching as well as her “happy, bubbly attitude.”
“She has a great relationship with all of our residents in class, usually by making them all laugh or being someone they can confide in,” Wood says. “The first thing each of them say when coming into class is ‘Hey Danielle!’ She is definitely the ‘mom’ of the classroom, and has a special way of making sure each of our residents know just how special they are.”
For many of the residents Dority works with, the connection is a lasting one.
She recalls one time at the annual Fall Fest when she ran into a former student who she hadn’t seen in a year or more. The student immediately ran up to her, gave her a hug and said she remembered how they used to do art together.
“To me, that’s the reason I do what I do,” Dority says. “... For her to associate me with art, and with that, to me that makes me happier than anything, to know that’s how she remembers me.”