The saying goes, “Home is where the heart is,” but you can’t spell “heart” without A-R-T.
While often thought of as a luxury item, art, in its many forms, has been an integral part of every culture and civilization since the beginning of time. Art fosters inspiration, tells stories of the past, present and future, expresses every emotion and provides warmth to the walls of offices and homes all over the world. The Assurance Home of Roswell happens to house an incredible art collection that is viewed daily by the wandering eyes of the children who get to call it home for a while.
The Assurance Home first opened its doors in 1979 at the old airport terminal building out at the base. Three years later it moved to the current campus where they have been for 35 years; a cozy farmhouse built in the 1800s, nestled back in a wooded property that has since expanded to 15 acres and is reminiscent of a storybook setting. It is home to up to fifteen children at a time between the ages of 12-18 who are often homeless or considered “at-risk”, and provides a stable environment where they can feel like they belong. The Assurance Home’s website (www.assurancehome.org) states, “We exist to give these kids consistency and loving guidance, so they can improve their chances of growing into happy and productive adults.” Executive Director, Ron Malone, who has an incredible understanding of the teenage mind, boasts, “Our program has a pretty high success rate! Most of our kids grow up and become productive members of society and go on to be good moms and dads,” which is what he describes as the “ultimate goal.”
Malone has been with the Assurance Home since the very beginning and thinks one of the most important things about its program that sets it apart from other group homes is the atmosphere it offers the kids, stressing how important an environment is for struggling or hurting children. The old farmhouse is filled with beautiful antiques, original artworks and, like the proudly displayed family portraits in most American homes, dozens upon dozens of frames featuring the photos of smiling teens who at some point in time enjoyed the comforts of living there. Malone recalls the countless times children have told him, “when I get my own house I want it to look just like this!” He continues, quoting a former board president who used to say, “If anybody needs beauty in their lives it’s these children.” Malone adds, “If kids are feeling bad about themselves or things haven’t really gone well in their lives, when they come to the Assurance Home, at least they don’t feel like they are going to a place that is not good. Just by looking, they can tell that this is a nice place. We want them to live in a nice place and we value them, so the environment is very, very important.” Malone adds that the Assurance Home has housed over 1,000 kids who have since spread their wings all over the world, and will still come back to visit, often bringing their own children and grandchildren with them.
While the Assurance Home serves kids in New Mexico, its mission speaks to a wide range of people all over the United States. Malone explains, “we get support from California to Florida from people that donate and care a lot about our children and want to make sure they are well cared for.” They also receive support from caring citizens in Roswell and the surrounding areas as well as former residents who, as Malone puts it, “considered it to be an important time in their lives,” elaborating, “The only reason I know this is because they have told me when they come back, it was one of the most important things that happened in their lives, where they came to a place where they felt safe and they felt valued and they were able to process the trauma, and knew that people loved them and cared about them. And it helped change the course of their lives.” The home has been fortunate to receive funding that has allowed for it to expand and serve more children in need. Girls’ and boys’ dorms have been added on as well as an updated kitchen and large dining hall. Everyone is expected to pull their own weight around the house, and the children earn an allowance by keeping their rooms tidy, creating grocery lists, shopping and cooking meals together and cleaning up after themselves. When they sit down in the dining hall to break bread, work on homework or do craft projects, the children can admire and study the paintings of the Quest Series by Peter Rogers. The paintings, with their distinctive style, were gifted by the artist, who wanted to keep all eight on display together. At the end of the house, there is a Spanish style staircase that leads to the offices upstairs where the staff of 17 work around the clock every day of the year to create a healing environment.
The Assurance Home employs a clinical staff which consists of three Master’s level therapists that work with the teens. Malone describes the benefits of the program for the residents, “Not only do they have a beautiful environment and loving adults that we surround them with, they also have professional people, like our therapists, who can help them process trauma and their situations so that they [therapists] can help them [children] resolve a lot of those issues before they become adults, and hopefully will become productive adults in society.” The rest of the staff is always presen
t to do, what Malone sums up as, “all the things that a parent would do,” which includes shuttling children to school, activities and doctor appointments and meeting with their teachers, noting that a schedule is made every morning to organize who needs to go where that day. Malone adds that the summers especially can get busy since most of the teens work part time jobs and the group will take a “family vacation” before everyone goes back to school, “We try to do a lot of things that families do; vacations and trips and things that are good for the soul.” This includes taking them skiing in the winter, going to movies and arranging meeting up with friends. “Teenagers are real social people,” Malone interjects, adding, “They want to do the things that all of their friends are doing, and because the home is so beautiful, a lot of our kids will invite their friends over. They’ll play basketball, they’ll eat with us and do activities with us.”
The acreage the Assurance Home sits on is full of other optional activities that are “good for the soul.” Part time staff member and retired RISD principal, Lee Kyser, runs the horsemanship program for the home. “He loves horses and kids,” mentions Malone, “He doesn’t try to teach them how to become good horseman, he just wants them to have fun and enjoy themselves and to be safe.” Malone adds that the ropes course is the same way and the main goal is safety and having fun, mentioning that it is very therapeutic, “It teaches a lot about setting goals, communication and trust.” The campus is also home to a library equipped with everything needed to be a successful student and features the eclectic artwork of past residents, a beautiful, serene chapel that is always open for the children to use and several quiet places to sit outside and reflect. Individual and group therapies are required for kids in the program, but if it works for their schedule, they can participate in family therapy. The Assurance Home has also had grants for art therapists to come in throughout the years. While there is currently not an art therapist on staff, Malone stresses how important it is for them to keep art supplies on site so that the children have the option to express themselves through art, and that occasionally they are “blessed by volunteers or a grant that can help them do art therapy.”
Malone describes the process for healing as really complicated. He elaborates on why the environment the Assurance Home provides is so important to the healing process in addition to their clinical therapy programs, “The first thing that happens with kids that come in is they need to know they are in a good place, so I think that’s why our environment is so important, that this isn’t just some bad place where they’re being stuck for a while. They come here and they see that it’s a nice place and they feel safe. A lot of our kids who have gone through a lot of trauma have a really hard time trusting adults and feeling like things are going to be ok. It’s a long process when you get to know kids. They come in and they’re not real sure about you, but after they have been here a while and they see the other kids and how the other kids have relationships with you and the other kids care about the adults here, it helps them start feeling like maybe the adults here are ok.” He continues, “It takes kids a while to start feeling like everything is going to be ok. When kids are mistreated they have poor self-esteem or feel like something is wrong with them. But when they come and live in a program with other kids that have healed a lot, they realize that there are other people who have struggles and go through difficult times. They see the kids who are being successful and have good self-esteem and are making good lives for themselves and it gives them hope and makes them think that maybe they can create a good life for themselves.”
Malone notes the importance of treating the children with respect and stressing to them that what they do right is more important that what they do wrong so they can learn they are valued and loved. “Our kids need to learn they are loved and that they have wonderful qualities about them. When you start feeling that way about yourself, it changes the way you behave in your life. It’s just a process. These kids want to have a happy life, just like everybody and when they come here, for a lot of them, it’s the first time they realize that is possible.”