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Shedding light on art therapy

Niki Partacz right JessicZimmerman both Naperville take part community art project put by Light The Heart Culture Stock AurorIll. Thursday

Niki Partacz, right, and Jessica Zimmerman, both of Naperville, take part in a community art project put on by Light of The Heart at Culture Stock in Aurora, Ill., on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The group was making care package items for Sandy Cook Elementary. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media

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What: Free open studio art making. Supplies provided. $5 suggested donation. Must be 18 or older or accompanied by an adult for the entire duration of the group.

When: 2nd Tuesday of every month from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3rd Thursday of every month from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Culture Stock, 43 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, IL

How: Reserve your space by emailing Melissa at or calling her at 630-486-4078

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Updated: January 29, 2013 6:16AM

In 2010, Melissa Hedlund was working with at-risk youth at a church on Aurora’s East Side and immediately fell in love.

“I knew in my heart and my soul that the Light of the Heart needed to be here,” the certified art therapist said. “That’s when I knew Aurora would be home.”

Hedlund’s mission was to create an organization that would bring art therapy to the masses. As a certified art therapist, Hedlund saw the need, and heard a calling, to bring her services to those in need.

“I had never been to the East Side, but when I did (go), it opened my eyes to how under-resourced families are... and just a few miles from where I live,” she said.

At that moment, she saw the path in front of her.

Hedlund put her years of experience as an art therapist to good use, and created The Light of the Heart, the area’s first non-profit art therapy platform.

“With all the jobs I had, I knew they were temporary,” she said. “I knew that wasn’t it. I knew on an inner-soul level that I had a greater calling.”

That calling, she said, was a The Light of the Heart.

“Our mission is to provide a safe and encouraging environment for individuals to uncover the light of their hearts through the creative process of art making,” Hedlund said. And, the organization’s first initiative kicked-off this month.

Free open studio art making is offered twice a month at Culture Stock bookstore in Aurora, where Hedlund and her sister, April, have secured space.

During each session, people from across the area are invited to get creative in a fun, safe environment where they can express themselves, Hedlund said. It’s a process she’s seen work time and time again.

While helping with at risk-youth, Hedlund said she’d watch hardened eyes light up during the creative process.

“After they created art, they connected. They laughed. They were uplifted,” she said. “Art is such a special way to connect to one another, especially in times of despair and tragedy.”

Last week, Hedlund and a small group of others met at Culture Stock to create messages of hope and strength for residents of Newtown, Conn., whose worlds were shattered following the murders of 20 children.

Naperville residents Niki Partacz and Jessica Zimmerman were among the artists in attendance.

“It’s a great coping mechanism to help express yourself in a healthy way,” Partacz said.

Hedlund is hoping that Partacz’s enthusiasm is contagious.

“When you start a group, no one comes,” Hedlund said of the less-than-ideal showing. “It’s hard to start a group, but eventually, you get a consistent following.”

During the organization’s first open art session, eight people showed up, some from as far as Evanston. This was proof to Hedlund that there exists a need.

“There’s not an organization like this anywhere in the nation. No one is doing exactly what we’re doing,” she said. “I understand why people would want to come from all over.”

But, she said, she’s hoping those close to home — and her heart — show up to reap the rewards of free art-therapy.

“I’ve been working on this since 2010 to cultivate relationships” which include partnerships with Triple Threat Mentoring and Family Counseling Services, Hedlund said. “My ultimate goal was to bring services to Aurora.”

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