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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Twenty-five years ago, Mary Lisa Kitakis-Spano’s first patient was a little girl in bunny slippers.

The girl was receiving chemotherapy for cancer, but Kitakis-Spano wasn’t providing medical care — she was there to paint.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kitakis-Spano arrived to make holiday masks at the first Creative for Health workshop, a collaborative effort between the UF Center for Arts and Medicine and HealthStreet, a community engagement program.

After working with the little girl, whom Kitakis-Spano declined to name for privacy reasons, Kitakis-Spano began spending more and more time painting at the UF Center for Arts in Medicine.

"We had the best time," Kitakis-Spano said, remembering the shirt they painted together. "It was an instant connection."

The workshop was designed for individuals affected by cancer; however, no one other than the organizers attended the event.

"We are in a completely new area and not many people know about the workshops yet," said Dylan Klempner, an artist in residence for the UF Center. "We are still in the process of reaching out to the cancer community."

The original idea to host workshops came from a grant the UF Center won from the Livestrong foundation.

They modeled the workshops after ones held by a creative center in New York City.

While the UF Center had a similar program last year with workshops for cancer patients, their families and caregivers in UF Shands Health Hospital, they are now hosting the workshops at HealthStreet, located next to The Commons at 2401 SW Old Archer Road.

The partnership formed after both the UF Center and HealthStreet began looking for a way to reach out to the community and found each other.

"The arts are a really good way to build a community," Klempner said.

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Klempner said the workshops are designed so people affected by cancer can build a community and form relationships through the arts.

"For a lot of people, (cancer) can be isolating," Klempner said.

Although there were no attendees at the first workshop, the workshops will still continue every Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. until Dec. 2.

The workshops, each taught by a different center volunteer, will range from spoken word to holiday cards.

Another session of workshops will begin in the spring, Klempner said.

"Being creative is good for us, but we forget about it sometimes," Klempner said.

While Kitakis-Spano was unable to teach mask making, she still thought of the little girl who inspired her years ago.

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me," Kitakis-Spano said.

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