Compassion Project

Chuck Englebert covers a wall at the Pump House Regional Art Center will some of the more than 6,000 canvases created by students participating in the La Crosse Compassion Project. The show will open on Friday and run through June 28. The project aspires to teach the practice of compassion through the use of art and writing.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

Compassion has taken on a new meaning for students in a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse mental health class.

Depending on who’s asked, compassion means putting people first, living life with an open mind, or being supportive, regardless of the situation.

Compassion was the theme for students in UW-L’s Therapeutic Recreation and Mental Health class this semester. Gavin McClintock, 22, wants to be an occupational therapist. Reflecting on compassion has shown him how necessary it will be when he’s working with people who depend on his services.

“Everyone deserves to feel liked or to feel like somebody understands them,” McClintock said.

Therapeutic recreation students are pretty altruistic to begin with, course instructor Tara DeLong said, but she wanted them to think about the concept of compassion and learn how practical it is when working with people who are disabled.

“Sometimes you have five seconds to build a rapport with someone,” DeLong said. “Part of what you have is that use of self.”

The class theme this year was influenced by a community-wide art initiative, the Compassion Project. Students in La Crosse’s K-12 schools transformed six-by-six-inch canvases into pieces of compassion-themed art.

The artwork will be on display Friday at the Pump House Regional Arts Center and other venues around town, including UW-L’s Cartwright Center. DeLong’s students will join the effort, finishing their canvases next week.

Their final papers will examine compassion, DeLong said.

The class is designed for students majoring in therapeutic recreation. Students will go on to provide medical services in hospitals or work in social services, and spending a semester dwelling on compassion should help them think about how they approach patients, DeLong said.

“The medical model is: ‘You’ve got a problem; let’s fix it,’” DeLong said.

For Rachel Wisnewski, 21, compassion is about being in the moment. It means taking a second to think about the problem, to think about what she knows and doesn’t know, Wisnewski said.

“The idea of compassion has been intertwined with almost everything,” she said.

The highlight of the class for McClintock was working at Easter Seals Respite Camp, a camp for people with disabilities. Working with the students there taught him the true value of compassion in medicine, McClintock said.

“You think that what you’re doing is enough, but you don’t understand the emotional level,” McClintock said. “(The people you work with) get to know you. They get to trust you.”

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