Student Caleb Barker works with ArtVan founder Jamie Silvestri this month to create a plaster cast of his hand at the  Western Foothills Regional Program school in Rumford. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — Students in the Western Foothills Regional Program are being provided with art lessons through the ArtVan, sponsored by Friends of the River Valley.

“This has been a huge gift,” the school’s director, Crystal Duguay, said. “It’s the first time these kids have been able to have art. They’ve been so excited to have them come and actually do art.”

The ArtVan is a Bath/Brunswick-based organization founded in 2004. Since December it’s come to Rumford every Tuesday and will continue through the end of the year.

“Most schools have specials where they have art and music, etc., but we’re so small it’s been hard for us to fund that when we really to focus on social work,” Duguay said.

The school serves 28 students in grades kindergarten to 12 in the former Virginia Elementary School at 676 Forest Ave.

“We’re really excited to have them here,” Duguay said. “Some of our kiddos that we haven’t gotten to open up all year long go in there and they’re a totally different student. They’re engaged. They’re excited. They’re coming to school on Tuesdays because they know art is here.”


“It’s fun and messy,” said student Michael Fulcher, who was working with educational technician Katie Chiasson.

“I like it,” said Caleb Barker as he worked with ArtVan founder Jamie Silvestri.

Matt Kauris of Friends of the River Valley stands beside the ArtVan that the community-based organization sponsors to provide art lessons to students every Tuesday in the Rumford area. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

Sylvestri has directed the organization since its inception. She said as an art therapist she works in institutional psychiatric settings with children, teens and adults.“And then I realized that the wellness piece of health care wasn’t happening to the level that I felt was important for growth and change,” she said. “So I tried to figure out ways that I could still be of service and help create with young people.”

Sylvestri said the organization wants to create a safe space so “we could see kids evolve and change, and watch them transform by working with different materials to help them find a healthy release.”

“Last week when we were here,” she said, “we did plaster of Paris with our hands, and created a shape and a form. They seemed to really like that.”

The students were given bases to add to the hand sculpture or the shape they put it in and color and decorate it, she said.


Sylvestri was joined by Julianna Nelson, a therapeutic arts assistant.

Matt Kaubris, a member of Friends of the River Valley, said, “This is just another one of those programs that we’ve been approached to help sponsor. It’s really heartwarming to see the programs in action. It’s fantastic to see the donations we receive put right back out into the community in programs like this.”

The organization focuses on providing community-based, tangible solutions to help improve nutrition, wellness and education for children and families in western Maine’s Androscoggin River Valley. It serves Andover, Byron, Dixfield, Hanover, Mexico, Peru and Roxbury.

Kaubris said he’s excited to see the ArtVan expand to Strathglass Park, the Rumford Public Library and Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico.

“As long as we can continue to receive excellent support from the community, in terms of donations, we can keep up these programs for more than just one year,” he said.

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