On Art Classes, Support, and Success

Posted on August 25, 2013

Student and artist Betty Spindelman poses with her artwork. Student and artist Betty Spindelman poses with her artwork.To make art requires material, expertise, patience and a place to work. None of the ingredients are inexpensive. I’m interested in becoming an art therapist. However, in the least pricy program available in New York City each book runs me about $125 and each piece of art costs at least $250 to make from start to finish. It’s very expensive. It’s too expensive even for full federal and state grants and the little money I get from social security disability to cover the costs of supplies and books.

Luckily there are still ways of getting the help I need to make it through school without incurring serious debt. One of those ways is the Fountain House Scholarship. Every semester for the past two years, I have been taking two art classes and two psychology classes. Applying to the Fountain House Scholarship has allowed me to pay for materials and books needed for my classes on time. I don’t have to worry about waiting until my Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) payment comes through, usually weeks after school starts, to have enough money for all the startup costs. And I get to save my TAP monies for all the projects later in the semester, which normally cost me more because they are the finals I need to do the best on. 

Now you may think it’s hard to go to school, and that is true. You may also think it’s hard to apply for the Fountain House Scholarship and go before the review committee, but that is false. School is work. It’s hard, sometimes I want to give up, but I fight through. There are assignments to finish, papers to write, tests to take. It is a full-time job – even when attending college part time. However, the Scholarship application is easy. Name, address, worker, what do you want to take; write a short essay; provide a printout of the class you want to take and you’re done! The interview is easy, too: go before a group of about five people - fellow members, board members, administrators - and talk about what you want to do. 

Here’s the hard part of the Scholarship: George Handran, the man responsible for the Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Foundation, who ensures we get our scholarships each year, thanks me for being there. He thanks me for giving me money to go to school by which he can honor Mr. Baer’s legacy. And every time I tear up, and in that moment I know that I have to do my best because Mr. Baer didn’t have the same chances and because I want to set an example for my fellow members. Because someone believes in me enough to hand me $500 to work towards my goals – the ones that doctors told me I was never going to achieve. 

This last semester I didn’t think I would make it. It was the first time I had gotten seriously depressed since 2008. A series of deaths in the family, friends getting ill, and my own medical issues overwhelmed me to the point where I was unable to concentrate. My ability to sit in class dwindled and I felt the need to do something to show how low I was. It was at the moment I began to step into a pond at Central Park that I knew I needed help. So I reached out. I contacted the counseling office at school, spoke to my Accessibility adviser, saw my psychiatrist (my medication levels were dangerously low because I wasn’t taking them properly), and met with my worker at Fountain House. This is the first time I’ve been depressed and in college when I’ve had support.

Support doesn’t mean everything was done for me. I still had the autonomy to choose how to get help, but this time I also had people behind me to help me get to my goals. And because I had planned for the return of depression or mania, I had options to choose from. My goals were to save my grades from the havoc that depression wreaks. I spoke with my advisor, and I decided to take incompletes in my sculpture and statistics classes because they required a lot of physical or mental work. I kept taking the two psychology classes because they only required memorization; no projects, papers or heavy physical work. My condition had been documented, so I could do this with no penalty. 

This semester I will finish those two classes because I am starting to feel better, and I won’t be getting F’s like I did back in 2002 when I didn’t have the support I do now.

The real lesson is that success is based on what my own idea of success is. For me, it’s getting the best education I can with consideration to my health and well-being. To be true to myself and admit when I need help or need to take some time off. And to know that the entire Fountain House community will be behind me the whole way, no matter what, to help me do my best. The best part of all is that I know George and the rest of the committee will be in that room, year after year, semester after semester, thanking each one of the Fountain House Scholarship applicants for their courage, their hard work, their will to go on, and their ability to give back to the community. 

Betty Spindelman
Education Unit, Fountain House


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