Graduate student receives art distinction

Lauren Hayes, a GW graduate student, was named the 2010 Alexandria Fellowship Award recipient Monday afternoon.

GW President Steven Knapp and the City of Alexandria Mayor William Euille presented the award to Hayes, the second recipient since it was first awarded in 2009.

The fellowship rewards one student who lives or works in the City of Alexandria while pursuing graduate study at GW’s Alexandria Graduate Education Center and covers all tuition costs. It not only encourages students to apply the knowledge and skills gained from their studies at GW to their careers, but also in the form of community-based service in Alexandria.

“It just really encompasses a lot of what I believe in – academics and giving back to the community,” Hayes said of the fellowship’s encouragement of community service. “It’s nice to have a fellowship. I thought it’d be a good fit.”

Hayes currently volunteers at the Cora Kelly Recreation Center in Alexandria, leading 8- to 10-year-olds in an after-school arts program. Deciding to work with the center – which already had an art program called Arts for All and All for Arts – was based on Hayes’s idea that “adding another arts component would be really helpful to the children.”

Euille, who considers community service a “requirement as a human being,” says he can’t think of a better role model than “someone who is assigned to complete [her] education out there, at a higher degree and to still find the time to want to work with young people.”

Hayes’s career choice is described by the American Art Therapy Association, based in Alexandria, Va., as a mental health profession that uses the creative process of making art to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.

“They help them get through their problems by utilizing art, and whether you have the skill or not, the way to express yourself and put it on paper and put it in words is refreshing,” said Euille, who visited the center a few weeks ago.

Before she began her service at Cora Kelly, Hayes worked as an art therapist intern at DeWitt Army Hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., beginning in Sept. 2009. She also volunteered with homeless women in India using art therapy this past summer.

“I think that what she’s doing in the community is a natural extension of the interests that she already has,” said Knapp on Hayes’s use of art therapy in relation to her community service.

To Knapp, Hayes and her community service in art make her the best candidate for the fellowship, “someone who [is] engaged in the community and making that service connection with the [City of Alexandria].”

In the future, Hayes hopes to be able to work with returning veterans using art therapy. That is Hayes’s “dream,” but she also says she would be happy doing art therapy with anyone. To Hayes, whose art medium of choice is oil painting, art therapy is a way to bring everyone together.

“It’s a commonality between everyone. everyone appreciates art or does art for themselves and I think that it’s really enriching,” said Hayes. “You can reach everyone, pretty much, visually, in some way.”

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