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Giving Back: Mark Creegan uses art to give confidence to his class


Mark Creegan's students at FSCJ interpret poetry and art created during Hope at Hand's sessions. Creegan volunteers at Hope at Hand and Mills House

Original source: Florida Times Union

By Megan Massion


When people volunteer, they can change lives - including their own. Each week in Reason, we will highlight a volunteer’s story of giving back and how that selfless act was a true revelation. The volunteer project is a collaboration among the Times-Union, the University of North Florida, the United Way of Northeast Florida and HandsOn Jacksonville.


Her body language conveyed frustration and defeat. The 16-year-old’s attempts to draw 3-D letters were timid.


Every week, the small group of eight girls who lived at the Mills House Girls’ Recovery Center patiently waited for volunteer and art professor Mark Creegan to arrive.


Creegan could see the girls through the glass window that overlooked the classroom before he entered. They were sitting side-by-side at a long table socializing in their T-shirts and pajamas.


Halfway through the art lesson, Creegan noticed that one of the girls looked discouraged.

Although the group was chatty, the statement she made wasn’t like the other excited talk.

“I suck. I can’t do this.”


Creegan stopped the lesson and challenged the girls to think about how having this mindset affects their self-esteem and decisions. “Obviously, that sort of mentality would make it hard for someone to battle something like drug addiction,” Creegan said. The residential services of the Mills House Girls’ Recovery Center in Jacksonville are designed to place children recovering from drug addictions in a safe and healthy environment to help them overcome the challenges they face.


Art is encouraged at the Mills House because it is a positive outlet for the girls to express themselves in a creative way. ″[Art] allows people to slow down and that in itself is therapeutic,” Creegan said.


In addition to his volunteer work at Mills House and Hope at Hands at the Boys Recovery Center, Creegan has been a professor for about 10 years and currently teaches various art courses full time at Florida State College at Jacksonville.


Creegan said everyone can find their own personal reason for volunteering. Volunteering seems natural for Creegan because he didn’t have a lot of resources growing up and a lot of people helped him.


He doesn’t have kids, so volunteering gives him the opportunity to be a mentor and pass down his wisdom to kids who need it most. Talk of negativity ceased that day at Mills House. The short moment prompted the girls to encourage each other for the remainder of the lesson. “If you have a defeatist attitude where you feel like you can’t succeed at a small art project, it can have ramifications to larger life issues,” Creegan said. “It became a lesson beyond just the lesson of how to draw letters.”

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