Art Therapy Grows in the Valley, Thanks to a Mother’s Efforts

BOARDMAN, Ohio – When other efforts fail to help people who are troubled or struggling with mental health, art therapy can be the answer.

It can allow a person to get past the layers of emotional trauma and find healing.

Art therapy is common in most of the state but was not present at all in the Mahoning Valley until about eight years ago.

That’s when Terri DiGennaro founded the Helms Foundation, which offers art therapy and art supplies. The group now works with many local agencies, including the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, with which it is affiliated; the Juvenile Justice Center, Potential Development, Rayen Early College, the YWCA, All Children Learn Differently school, Yellow Brick Place and other groups and agencies.

DiGennaro and her staff of four have produced many success stories in which clients have overcome their troubles and become happy and productive.

“We’re not there to teach art,” she said. “They are there to teach us.”

The foundation has its office in the DeBartolo Building in Boardman, where it also stocks a roomful of art supplies.

In the near future, it will open an art therapy studio at 155 Pine Ave. NE, Warren, in space donated by attorney Daniel Thomas.

“It will be the first art therapy studio in the Mahoning Valley,” DiGennaro said.

The facility is overdue – and necessary. “Not everybody reacts well to [traditional] therapy,” DiGennaro said.

She explained how it works.

“The mind may have layers of trauma, neglect, anxiety, abuse,” DiGennaro said. “Just like music therapy, art therapy touches a certain part of the brain, and it brings out emotions. It’s a nonverbal form of communication, and it can be adjusted to any disability or treatment plan. [It allows] the therapist to build upon his treatment goals.”

She cited the case of one young client who had a lot of trauma and was nonverbal.

“After art therapy, she was coming out and expressing,” DiGennaro said. “Next thing we know, she is prom queen.”

At this time, art therapy cannot be billed to medical insurers in Ohio, although there are legislative efforts afoot to change that, DiGennaro said.

While Helms receives funding from the Mahoning Mental Health and Rehabilitation Board, it needs more.

Toward that end, it is presenting its first major fundraiser.

Vegas in the Valley will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Woodland Cellars at the Manor, 3128 Logan Road, Liberty.

The event will feature casino games such as craps, poker and roulette; raffles; and an art auction. There will be food stations and an open bar.

Tickets are $100, with a VIP ticket for $150 that includes a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. and a gala reception.

To purchase tickets, go to Information on becoming a sponsor or donating an item for the basket raffle can also be found on the website.

DiGennaro’s reasons for launching the Helms Foundation are very personal and serve as an unending source of motivation

The name was the tagline that her late son, Ryan Giambattista, used to sign all of his public art and graffiti. At the time, his work was often seen on the walls of abandoned buildings in Youngstown.

“We never knew what HELMS stood for,” DiGennaro said. “We made it into an acronym that means Heal, Express and Learn through different Media and Styles.”

Giambattista died in 2015 at age 23 after falling from a roof while working on an art project.

He was a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier in Sharon, Pa. 

“It was funny because nobody ever saw a postman with dreadlocks,” DiGennaro said. “Everybody loved him.”

Throughout his short life, Giambattista was always grounded by his art. It was the base to which he always returned.

“As he went through his transitions, his art would evolve along with him,” DiGennaro said.

As a youth, he had his struggles and had many sessions with counselors. “Those years would have been easier if he had a coping mechanism in which someone addressed his art,” DiGennaro said.

Pictured at top: Terri DiGennaro stands in the art supply room of the Helms Foundation’s office in Boardman.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.