Gatheringplace celebrates 25 years of aiding disabled

Posted 7/17/19

Craig Rogers is 63 years old, but he insists he didn’t get into painting “seriously” until after he moved to Port Townsend in the late 1980s.

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Gatheringplace celebrates 25 years of aiding disabled

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Craig Rogers is 63 years old, but he insists he didn’t get into painting “seriously” until after he moved to Port Townsend in the late 1980s.

Because of his spina bifida, many physical tasks have become progressively more challenging for Rogers as he’s gotten older.

He can no longer drive, for example, but at the Gatheringplace house at 430 Hudson Place, he can still paint, whether on drinking glasses, bird houses or more traditional canvases.

Rogers paints from photos, from his memory and from his imagination in equal measure.

While he’s spent as much as a couple of weeks on some of his paintings, meditating on them and contemplating how he wants to proceed next, he’s produced a number of paintings in less than two hours apiece.

“I’ve had to figure out how to paint, since my disability affects my upper body,” Rogers said during one of the art classes at Gatheringplace. “But if I can lean into it, I get very focused.”

Rogers has been with Gatheringplace for most of its quarter-century history, and as the nonprofit for those with disabilities prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary at the Pourhouse July 21, he’s painted a collage of scenes from in and around Port Townsend, including the Pourhouse itself.

Linda Ferris, founding director of Gatheringplace, estimated Rogers has painted as many as 300 paintings as part of the group’s classes, with at least 50 currently sitting in his art studio in the house.

“He zeroes in on it so much, while he’s doing it, that he actually forgets his physical pain,” Ferris said.

For his part, Rogers enjoys the process of painting, as well as the forms and colors he can apply to his canvases, whether he’s portraying fantasy scenarios and dreamscapes, or landscapes with seas and mountains that actually exist in real life, many of which he’s visited.

“Gatheringplace is an awesome program, because it allows us to become more ourselves,” Rogers said. “It’s a friendly place where you can have fun, and it also helps us relate better to the world around us.”

Ferris recalled filing the nonprofit application for Gatheringplace with Linda Ramsey on July 11, 1994, and starting with four clients.

Gatheringplace now serves roughly 30 clients with developmental and physical disabilities on average, and has increased its program of classes from two to four days per week.

“We initially kicked it off with arts and crafts classes, with exercise sessions and walks around the community to get everyone’s bodies out and moving,” said Ferris, hearkening back to Gatheringplace’s original site at the recreation center, before the Port of Port Townsend was able to furnish the nonprofit with its current home.

Ferris credited Bruce Starr with being instrumental in developing the organic garden, which supplies ingredients for their clients’ cooking classes, and expressed her appreciation to bakery manager Lisa Doray for returning to help them make dog biscuits.

“We offer seven flavors, we make them with homemade broth, and we produce about 35 pounds of dry dog biscuits a week,” said Ferris, who thanked Skookum for providing the use of their facilities on Fridays for Gatheringplace’s clients and volunteers to make the dog biscuits.

Gatheringplace sells them at the farmers markets on Saturdays, has shipped them to California, Montana, Colorado and Georgia, and supplies them to six locations in Jefferson County, plus Sequim.

“The idea is that everyone has a job, regardless of ability level,” Ferris said. “Our people roll the dough, cut out the biscuits, bag them and label them. Everyone gets to be productive. As a teacher, I’ve always wanted to bring out the best in everyone.”

Ferris’ daughter, Megan, was among the first clients of Gatheringplace, because after she graduated from the Port Townsend High School Special Education program in 1994, Ferris found few opportunities for an adult with developmental disabilities.

“Even if it hadn’t been for her, I’d still be doing this work,” Ferris said. “We have a lot of volunteers, and only two paid staff members. I think we have so many because working with those with disabilities benefits our volunteers as much as it does our clients.”

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