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Watercolor brings healing at MOCA House in Wooster

Emily Nulph’s move from Maryland to Ohio was hard on her mental health journey, but she found a road to recovery by attending art classes at the MOCA House, a program in Wooster through the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Art is a way of expressing ourselves,” Emily Nulph said. “Sometimes it comes out a little different than what we think, but then it's like we're looking at an abstract and we can see something in that.”

Nulph didn’t know anyone when she first moved to Wayne County. She said she began to spiral with her bipolar disorder. It was her husband who saw an article in the newspaper about MOCA House. He encouraged her to participate six years ago.

“My husband's always very surprised when I come home with something,” she said. “Look what I made today. Look what we did. And he knows that I'm happy here. I'm very happy here.”

Jen Grim is the executive director of NAMI for Wayne and Holmes Counties. MOCA House is the largest program within NAMI and other areas flow out from there, such as the art classes Nulph enjoys, she said. The MOCA House is a peer support group.

“MOCA House is the place where people who are working on their mental health recovery come to have social opportunities, activities [and] to work on life skills,” she said. “In that art program people can express the feelings of depression they may have or the anxiety symptoms that they have, and they can get encouragement from each other through the art process.”

Watercolor is a creative medium used to bring healing at MOCA House. Attendees sit together as a group for class. Staff is on hand to offer support, and there are spaces off from the main gathering place where people can talk to a peer as needed.

“I came in one day when they were having art,” Nulph said. “I was having a problem in a group setting. But Jackie, put me on a little table by myself. And... now I'm sitting right with everybody else.”

Jackie Hunter is the MOCA House manager. She has seen the growth of those attending, she said.

Some people come for a while and others just need a short-term support group before getting a job or improving their skills to manage relationships. When Nulph started the program, Hunter showed her around.

“When Emily first started, she came in, and she was very tearful, very depressed,” Hunter said. “And she moved here from another state, and she really didn't have anyone. She didn't have any friends here.”

Connie Barnard volunteers her time to teach watercolor classes at MOCA House. She implements calming techniques throughout the class, such as breathing exercises.

“I really believe in art therapy even though I am not a trained art therapist, but I see when people are doing art, they lose themselves in it.” Barnard said. “I like to say your soul, and lots of times some of the trauma that's going on in your life gets swallowed up in your art. So, art here can be beautiful, but it can also show some other aspects of our lives that are going on.”

Nulph feels happy at MOCA, she said.

If I have anxiety, I know to deep breathe. I know to meditate. They give us tools here," she said.

Kelly Krabill is a multiple media journalist at Ideastream Public Media. Her work includes photography and videography. Her radio and web reporting covers a wide range of topics across Northeast Ohio.