When local artist Staci Leech-Cornell received a message from a friend on Instagram asking if she was interested in using her art to join with the YWCA for a charity event, she didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“I thought this was a very cool opportunity. I felt honored,” she said. “This is the first time in doing a show I’ll be able to donate my proceeds, and it’s the first time I didn’t hesitate in accepting.”
At ArtWalk on Thursday, Leech-Cornell will be selling originals and prints of a series she did throughout March — women’s history month — highlighting women who inspire her. All proceeds from the pieces of art, which feature hand-drawn portraits of the women and a handwritten quote from them, will benefit the residents at the YWCA Shanklin Center for Senior Enrichment, which houses elderly women who have fallen victim to elderly abuse.
Leech-Cornell’s gallery will serve as a preface for the YWCA’s annual CHAIRity auction, where rocking chairs turned into modern pieces of art by various local artists will be auctioned off to visitors at the gallery at Romano and Associates, PLLC.
“It’s a great opportunity to find unique pieces of art, but can be a challenge — elderly abuse is a very serious problem, and being able to have such a fun event to bring attention to it is important,” said Jennifer Goddard, chief program officer for the YWCA Shanklin Center. “Elder abuse happens in every community, and by supporting this event, people get to support basically giving these women [at the Shanklin Center] a second chance at life.”
June is elder abuse awareness month, and Leech-Cornell said she is passionate and excited about being able to support the cause in such a timely fashion.
“I really believe in [Shanklin Center’s] mission — supporting these women, giving them back the ability to be involved in their community,” Leech-Cornell said. “I’ve had family members who have dealt with Alzheimer’s and dementia, I’ve watched it, and I know how easy it can be for them to become victims.”
While raising funds for the Shanklin Center, Goddard said raising awareness for the issue of elder abuse is cardinal to this entire event.
“We all have the opportunity to be aware of the signs [of elder abuse], and it’s our responsibility to keep our eyes open and speak out,” she said.
Elder abuse occurs in several different ways — verbally, physically, emotionally, financially and more, Goddard said. She warned of watching out for elders with bad hygiene, those who may not be getting the proper medical resources — like clean dentures or necessary glasses — or those who may be taken advantage of monetarily, by either family members or “new friends,” who may act normal.
In West Virginia especially, where 18 percent of the population is 65 years or older — 3 percent more than the national average of 15 percent, according to the U.S. Census — elder abuse is a problem since “more elderly people means more abuse.”
Also, Goddard said crises like the drug epidemic can exacerbate elder abuse in the area, as people can be desperate for money and steal medication to sell, among other things.
“There are lots of different types of abuse; getting people to recognize this is important,” Goddard said. “[The Shanklin Center] is an example of people being able to live their lives with freedom and dignity after suffering at the hands of elder abuse.”
Leech-Cornell’s original portraits will be available for purchase at Art Walk for $125, with smaller prints available for less.
There will also be a book available compiling all her portraits, which depict 28 women from artists like Frida Kahlo and Mary Blair to political figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Alice Paul, entitled “She Inspires Me,” which will include a few blank pages for buyers to draw portraits of women who inspire them in their lives.
“I did this inspirational women series as a general nod to my gender, and it just felt right with everything going on in the world today,” Leech-Cornell said. “These are the people who inspire me, but I wanted to give people a chance to help finish a book they purchased.”