Allentown clinic’s splash of color designed to invite, soothe young people in crisis

Written by on August 5, 2022

Mental health clinic’s splash of color designed to invite, soothe young people in crisis

By Aliya Haddon
August 5, 2022

Artist Monica Salazar and volunteers from People First Federal Credit Union use stencils to cover the backdrop of the mural. (Photo | Aliya Haddon / WLVR)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – A KidsPeace clinic that provides outpatient mental health services in east Allentown is getting a new paint job — murals will soon decorate the exterior.

Robert Martin, KidsPeace director of communications, said the mural will make the center more welcoming to clients and more enjoyable for neighbors passing by. 

The facility offers a walk-in program free of charge with no appointment required. 

“It’s so important for people who are facing a crisis like that, to know that there is help available,” Martin said. “The kids are so resilient when they are given a chance to find some healing, and also just be kids.”

Artist Monica Salazar has begun the first of two murals planned for the center at 801 E. Green St., not far from Irving Park and Dieruff High School. A mixed media artist, Salazar is completing the project as part of The Banana Factory’s Pennsylvania artist-in-residency program. 

Salazar explained that she didn’t have a complete plan for the mural until she saw her canvas in person. 

“I have to go and visit the site. Go around, look at the people. What do they need?” she said. “They start explaining what they do every day, and how they — how are their lives? And that’s how I get inspiration, from them, from the actual building, from the actual people.”

KidsPeace says the outpatient center offers therapy, life and parenting skills training, problem solving, and self-esteem building for children and their families.

Once Salazar was introduced to the people and the place where she would be creating, she said, she was inspired to create an image of a bird. 

“So the idea was that the bird symbolizes the freedom – the freedom of the mind and the soul,” Salazar said. She “tried to symbolize the freedom of the children. Yeah, the freedom of their mind.”

The mural is split into three different panels. Each will show a different view of the bird, painted over a span of 30 days. 

Salazar currently is working on the background of the piece — yellow for the base to represent the sun, with light blue patterns layered on for the sky.  

KidsPeace has opened the project to the public for help. Community members of all ages have been invited to help Salazar with elements of the work. 

Said Martin: “We’re really trying to get people to look at us as part of the community, a community service, something that they can rely on should they need the help.”

About 4,000 patients are seen every year at KidsPeace outpatient clinics. Other locations are in Mount Pocono and in Bethlehem. 

The goal is to make those visits as helpful and hopeful as possible. Martin thinks art will help.

“If you’re a parent and you’ve got a child that’s really suffering, you come to our building, you see these murals, you’re going to say “There’s a little bit of beauty in this,’” he said. “And hopefully, the hope is there that my child’s gonna get helped.”

Salazar will paint another mural on the building when the first is complete. The design for the second mural has not been planned yet, but she said it will be created above a raised garden bed next to the clinic. 

A community dedication and celebration ceremony will take place once all of the work is done.

The project cost $2,800, funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts and by People First Federal Credit Union.

Salazar also works at the Alternative Gallery in Allentown and is preparing for her next mural at New Bethany Ministries in South Bethlehem this fall.

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