‘‘In St. Louis, two people will die today from accidental overdoses, and tomorrow and the next day.”

This staggering statistic offered by Kathie Thomas, founder of Hope Creates and supported by a 2016 study conducted by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, is just one example of the opioid crisis in St. Louis and across the country.

In April 2017, Thomas founded Hope Creates, an organization devoted to improving the lives of recovering addicts ages 15-24 through expressive arts activities and occupational therapy best practices. Her inspiration was personal, stemming from her daughter’s addiction and commitment to sobriety over a year ago.

“I turned to art to help me express my feelings [during her recovery],” explained Thomas. “Art gave me a sense of control and a way to turn something really horrific into something beautiful.”

Thomas holds a BFA in printmaking and drawing and had worked in innovation consulting, so it was perhaps unsurprising that she turned to art to cope. The relief she found through her art making made her wonder if expressive arts could help others who were struggling with addiction.

“Our mission is to leverage creativity. Creation is the opposite of self-destruction.”

— Hope Creates founder, Kathie Thomas

Hope Creates combats the opioid crisis in two ways. Monthly community creation events invite youth who are committed to sobriety, along with their families, to participate in an expressive arts activity ranging from painting to theater to even tie-dye.

The activities promote healthy creativity and expression, but Thomas says they also have an indirect benefit, what she calls “the sneaky vegetables in the chicken pot pie.” The youth learn life skills from hygiene and nutrition to effective communication, building attachments and finding a sense of community.

Admittedly once ill informed about addiction, Thomas wants to make sure others do not fall into the same trap she did.

“As I’ve gotten to know my daughter’s situation and understand her peers and what they’re going through, I’ve learned that addiction is a disease,” she said. “It’s not a sin, it’s a disease. And it’s a lifetime disease that, if not treated with a program, will kill you.”

Hope Creates also presents a semi-annual expressive arts exhibition. Unlike the monthly programs, which are open to all youth in recovery, these exhibitions are limited to those who have achieved sobriety for more than one year.

The most recent exhibition featured work in poetry, ceramics, photography, painting and music. Aside from providing a professional arts experience for the participants who also organize and install the show, these exhibitions help Hope Creates bridge the gap in the public’s understanding of addiction and recovery and transform the cultural dialogue.

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For more information on Hope Creates, visit hopecreates.org.