Art therapy helps teen find herself

Liz Freeman,; 239-263-4778
Jayde Pasco, 16, holds her original artwork for the David Lawrence Center Christmas card at Artis—Naples on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. Pasco discovered art therapy while at the David Lawrence Center and hopes to become an artist.

Jayde Pasco is comfortable in the art therapy classroom at Artis—Naples and talking about turning her life around.

She’s endured incessant bullying at school and an unstable home life, and she lost hope.

Now 16, she did not recognize — at first — that she needed help.

But help came 18 months ago through counseling for depression at the David Lawrence Center in Naples. More help came through art therapy sessions held monthly at Artis—Naples with counselors from the nonprofit mental health center.

The 10th-grader at Lorenzo Walker Technical High School created the art for the cover of David Lawrence’s holiday greetings card, going out to 2,000 supporters in the community.

“It’s an honor to be asked to do something like this,” Jayde said. “I was excited, and I was surprised.”

The color pencil drawing with watercolor and acrylic paint features a sandman on a beach with sand scoopers as arms, a carrot nose, grass skirt and two palm trees against a warm orange-yellow setting sun. The image conveys how Southwest Florida residents enjoy the holidays.

“We live in Florida, so we always have this joke it’s like, ‘Ha ha, instead of a snowman, we make a sandman,’” she said.

Jayde was up for the art challenge, gaining self-confidence and finding her way thanks to taking part in a specialized program at David Lawrence called the Community Action Team. It’s a multidisciplinary approach that provides the highest level of intensive outpatient services in Collier County, Jennifer St. Hilaire, clinical supervisor with the program, said in an email.

The program works with the youth and their family and others in their lives to address what’s going on to prevent the young person from being placed out of home, she said. At any given time, 35 to 40 kids and young adults are enrolled.

“Youth learn how to make changes in their own environments which teaches them the skills needed to continue to be successful after discharge,” Hilaire said.

The art therapy is part of the program where sessions are held once a month at Artis—Naples, and once a month at David Lawrence.

Jayde had been a victim of bullying since she was at least 4 and it escalated in seventh and eighth grades at Pine Ridge Middle School. She reacted by overeating and eating food she is allergic to, causing reactions in addition to gaining 80 pounds.

A mock-up for the David Lawrence Center Christmas card sits on the table with Jayde Pasco's original artwork at Artis—Naples on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. Jayde, who discovered art therapy while at the David Lawrence Center, was asked to create the Christmas card for the mental health provider.

The cycle of bullying and overeating continued, and she lacked a traditional family life at home to provide help.

“I fell into the worst stages of depression,” she said. “It’s hard for me to open up to anyone.”

She thought she could cope, despite the incomprehension of why other kids were so mean to her. She felt useless and alone, and she developed an independent streak instead of reaching out for help.

“It was just constantly being a punching bag everywhere,” she said. “So that’s why I hated myself. The only thing I had ever felt was hatred and not amounting to anything.”

Staff members at Youth Haven, a child and family counseling center in Naples, had recognized she needed more help than what they could provide. Youth Haven referred her to David Lawrence.

Jayde has enjoyed drawing and being creative all her life, and enrolling in the art therapy sessions nurtured her creative side and became an outlet for stress. She loves coming to Artis—Naples to see the other artwork.

“Art therapy helps youth develop new coping skills, learn socially appropriate methods to express and contain thoughts and emotions, experience healthy leisure and recreational skills, gain self-reflection and self-confidence, and enhance communication skills,” Hilaire said.

Today, Jayde is planning an art career and next year will start technical classes at Lorenzo while finishing high school to graduate.

“It’s an amazing school,” she said.

This year has been remarkable for her. The transformation to a confident, poised and articulate young woman brings her grandfather John Pasco, 70, to tears of gratitude. He has filled a void in her life, and the two are close. Jayde Pasco has not known her birth father.

“I respect her and love her, and I want her to have every success in life,” her grandfather said.

“This year has been me finding myself,” Jayde Pasco said. “When I wake up every day I say, ‘Today is a chance to create new opportunities and move forward and keep attaining the best things in life.’ ”

Jayde Pasco, 16, center, shares her story and experience with art therapy at Artis—Naples with support from her counselor Abigail Pitts, right, and her grandfather John Pasco on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. Jayde discovered art therapy while at the David Lawrence Center and created the Christmas card for the mental health provider.