City oasis for cancer support in Washington DC

By Stephanie Kemp

Living Well Magazine Summer 2015

Smith Center for Healing and the Arts is a like-minded organisation  in Washington D.C. that I have been lucky enough to find near me upon moving to the USA. With a mission to develop and promote healing practices that explore physical, emotional and mental wellness and lead to life-affirming changes, they offer programs for the community and specialise in serving people  with cancer and utilising the arts  in healing.

Co-founded in 1996 by Barbara Smith Coleman (an artist who lost her brother to cancer), Michael Lerner of Commonweal (a cancer healing centre in California), and Shanti Norris who leads it to this day, Smith Center is based in an inner city neighbourhood and provides an ever-expanding schedule of day programs to people with cancer and the local community. Cancer support programs include therapeutic yoga, meditation, creativity workshops, nutrition and cooking classes, support groups and a Young Adult Cancer Group. Most classes are free or by donation.

The centre has a warm and inviting feel, with the ‘shop-front’ being an actual working art gallery – The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery – a non-profit arts space dedicated to exhibiting fine art that explores the innate connection between healing and creativity. Beyond is a cosy nook for hanging out and making a cup of tea, while in the back is a multi-purpose space with a kitchen for cooking classes and space for yoga, meditation or creativity classes. The glassed wall leading out to an inner courtyard is lined with a rainbow of paper cranes made by participants, adding a healing and colourful ambience. Cancer Support Program Director, Kiersten Gallagher, was brought on in April this year to expand the programs. She has done just that, and in the process made them  more robust. “My broader vision is to make Smith Center more of a community center that people utilise on a regular basis. So if someone is looking to do yoga, they can also stay for a creativity class, or the knitting class or perhaps a support group.  I hope to build a stronger base of people that is here on a regular basis.   Building an exceptional cancer support program involves some trial and error and will take time.”

As well as the classes, one-day and three-day non-residential retreats – Living Well with Cancer – are held at the centre. The retreat offers an integrative program of healing including support groups, yoga, meditation, deep relaxation, gourmet vegetarian diet and discussions on choices in healing. It is limited to 9 participants and offers a high quality opportunity to explore the physical, mental and emotional dimensions of healing with cancer. In this regard, the principles explored are very much aligned with The Gawler Foundation’s Seven Essential Elements.

The center originally started with a focus on retreats, healthcare and artist-in- residence programs.

“Then in 2008 we began a capital campaign to expand our space and create the art gallery space downstairs, which opened in 2009” say Erin Price-Schabert, Development Manager. “In 2011 we held the grand opening of our new program space. Since then, on-site Cancer Support programs have become a key part of our mission,  as we were then able to offer a much bigger variety of classes.”

I have now visited Smith Center a few times and met a number of the staff as well as Shanti, the Executive Director. The center makes a point of hiring experienced staff who can work deeply with people; it truly shows. I’ve attended a gallery opening and also the therapeutic yoga classes. It is clear that the people who attend have found an oasis of calm and support in their city, in the midst of their cancer journey, and I for one will keep going back for more.

Check out www.smithcenter.org for more information.

Above: Smith Centre interior.  Left inset top: Yoga practice. Left inset:  Erin Price-Schabert and Kiersten Gallagher. Above: Smith Centre exterior.

Smith Center of Healing and the Arts runs an extensive schedule of cancer support programs. Weekly yoga, meditation and Qigong classes are offered, as well a  variety of creative programs.

A few examples from November and December include:

Eating for a Lifetime: Cooking for People with Cancer
Laura Pole – 10 – 4pm on a Saturday.

Explore the role of nutrition in cancer care in this fun and informative cooking class. Learn the basic principles of health and delicious food selection and preparation.

Outside the Lines: A Creative Art Studio
Kiersten Gallagher and Ali Decker – Twice monthly for two hours.

Take a break from the rush of daily life and explore creative projects in a safe and healing space. Enjoy our program studio where ample space, light, and our extensive collection of supplies are available for your personal use to enliven your imagination and creative expression.

Conversations with a Cancer Coach
Carole O -Toole – one hour at lunchtime.

In this informal session, Carole will share practical wisdom and answer questions about complementary therapies, patient advocacy and healing. Learn strategies for how to take the best possible care of yourself when you have been diagnosed with cancer.

Dimensions of Healing with Cancer
Shanti Norris – one hour in early evening.

Discover how integrative cancer care can support healing on all levels: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Get in touch with what makes your heart sing and see how it can be part of our pathway to healing.