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SALT LAKE CITY — Alice Perreault's son was severely injured before he was even born. She wanted to do something, but there was nothing she really could do — except start an art class.
In art class, Perreault teaches history and something else, something she grew up with. Her sister was born with Downs syndrome
As devastating as it was, I thought ‘the one thing I do have, the ability and the strength I do have, is in the arts.'
"I never had any preconceived idea of who she should be," Perreault said. "I never had any disappointment about who she was. She was just Renee, my sister.
"From a very young age I learned how to advocate for her," Perreault said. In high school, she lobbied the principal to let her sister participate in graduation ceremonies, and the two ended up walking across the stage together.
Later in life, Perreault became her sister's guardian. Now she runs Kindred Spirits, an arts program for kids with and without disabilities.
"They can learn from each other," Perreault says. "They can be respectful of each other, and while doing that learn about the arts."
The idea was born after her son, Julius. During birth, his umbilical cord was pinched and he was deprived of oxygen for 20 minutes.
We all have abilities, whatever they may be, and we all have a purpose. Your place is so important, and we need to be able to create a place for everyone.
"It literally took years before I understood the full magnitude of his disability," Perreault said. "As devastating as it was, I thought ‘the one thing I do have, the ability and the strength I do have, is in the arts.'"
So, now in class Will gets to ask questions.
"Let's see, he asked about … Jules gets fed food through his stomach, and so he asked about that," Will's mom, Lynda Perkins said. "Adam has a trach, and he plays with it, and so (Will) was asking what the noise was about."
Mark Handy's granddaughter, Ava, learns to not be afraid.
"Each time that Julius would verbalize, she'd cry," Perreault explained. "Now she understands that that's just the way he talks."
"This environment is a new experience for us," Handy said.
"I think it's important for them to be able to experience each other," Perkins said.
"And they're just kids like everybody else and know they have feelings too," Handy added.
Perreault says it's not really about drawing a tree, but painting a new picture of people with disabilities. "A better understanding of all the differences that we have," she said. "You know: ‘We all have abilities, whatever they may be, and we all have a purpose. Your place is so important and we need to be able to create a place for everyone, including the Julius' of the world.'"
Kindred Spirits is now a program under Art Access VSA Utah. For more information, visit www.kindredspiritsart.org.