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Students’ very special art being displayed at local bakery

Michael Bestwick, co-owner of Pennie's Bake Shop & Espresso Bar, and Krystin Smith, Inclusive Autism Program manager at In Toto Community Resource Center in Zelienople, check out a painting created by a young In Toto client at the bake shop in Butler. Four paintings will be displayed at the shop during April, which is Autism Acceptance Month. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

Those grabbing an iced coffee or gigantic cookie at Pennie’s Bake Shop & Espresso Bar in Butler this month might have noticed some colorful — and meaningful — pieces of art around the tidy and sweet-smelling shop.

The artwork was created by four young people who participate in services at In Toto Community Resource Center in Zelienople, which provides community-centered social support to individuals with increased risk of mental health struggles in a nonclinical setting.

The pieces answer the question “What makes you happy?”

Brothers Leo, 9, and Dominic, 12, of Cranberry Township, completed artwork for the display along with their brother, Paul, 16.

The brothers’ dad, Dan, said Paul is on the autism spectrum and he suspects the younger boys are as well.

Dominic followed a Bob Ross video to create his landscape painting, which includes majestic mountains, all manner of flora and fauna, and rushing water.

“It’s kind of cool how it turned out,” Dominic said of his artwork. “It looked really good. I was kind of surprised.”

Leo sketched the character “Creeper” in a landscape in the Minecraft video game series before filling the sketch in with watercolor paint.

Like his father and brothers, Leo appreciates In Toto and bakery co-owner Michael Bestwick for collaborating to display the art.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Leo said.

Dan said his family has utilized the services offered by In Toto for several years.

“It’s a great group for kids with autism and adults with autism too,” he said. “They work well with the kids and support the adults.”

The art will continue to be displayed at the bakery during April, which is Autism Acceptance Month, to increase community awareness about In Toto and the services provided there.

Creative expression

Krystin Smith, inclusive autism program manager at In Toto, said most of the art displayed at the bakery was created in the emotional skills class at In Toto.

She said the young clients who were asked to create pieces for the display are not normally interested in art.

“The boy who made the most impressive piece of art never painted before,” Smith said.

She said engaging in any type of art, regardless of the result, is helpful to those on the autism spectrum.

“Sometimes, if you don’t have words for your emotions, expressing them creatively will help,” Smith said.

Legos and other forms of art or creation also are regularly used in various In Toto classes.

“If you can’t say ‘I’m feeling anxious and I had a bad day,’ you can show it with art,” Smith said.

She hopes the artwork displayed at the bakery brings those on the spectrum and their families to In Toto, where a variety of programs and classes are available.

“It’s really nice to be involved with the community, because if you don’t have someone in your life with autism, you might not even know we exist,” Smith said.

Expanding services

She said In Toto, which was formerly Parents In Toto, changed its name because the organization began providing more programs for youths on the autism spectrum than support for their parents, which was the original mission.

Smith said In Toto offers 13 groups each week, either in-person or online, to those on the spectrum of almost any age.

All programs are free, there is no waiting list, there is no requirement to have a diagnosis, and no doctor’s referral is necessary to participate in any group or class, she said.

The groups and classes at In Toto provide a vital resource for those in the community who are over age 25.

“The largest population served is adults because Pennsylvania has amazing autism resources,” Smith said, “but after the age of 25, you lose a lot of those supports.”

She said In Toto sees 20 to 30 adults and five to 15 youths each week in the various groups, programs and classes.

Outside of groups, In Toto also accepts walk-in clients interested in finding a dentist who serves those with special needs, psychiatrists or other community services.

‘A breath of fresh air’

Regarding funding, In Toto operates using private grants and donations, and does not receive any state or federal funds.

Sydney Selfridge, office manager at In Toto, said many autistic and neurodiverse people and their families looking for support services are accustomed to being placed on a waiting list or entangled in insurance approval.

They are sometimes surprised at the immediate availability of support services at In Toto’s Inclusive Autism Program.

“I’m frequently met with disbelief from caregivers desperately trying to find support for their loved ones when I say ‘Our next group in tomorrow. Please feel free to stop by. No, there’s no fee,’” Selfridge said. “In a world where receiving services can take six months to a year or more, IAP’s ability to accommodate anyone with an interest in programming is a breath of fresh air to autistic people and their caregivers.”

She said those without a diagnosis but whose symptoms make parents or caregivers suspect they are on the spectrum are welcome at In Toto, as are the nonverbal or those with almost any special need.

Bestwick said Pennie’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake Frappé was created just for Autism Acceptance Month, and the sweet creation is selling well.

He said $1 from the sale of each of the frappés will be donated to In Toto.

Bestwick said he is thrilled to display the artwork in his bakery for the second year.

“We personally love having artwork in the shop, in general, and the fact that it’s made by people with special needs really just warms your heart,” he said.

Bestwick hopes having their art on display will held build self-confidence and pride in the artists.

“We plan on doing it every year they ask us to do it” he said.

Artwork from young clients at In Toto Community Resource Center's Inclusive Autism Program in Zelienople is being displayed at Pennie's Bake Shop & Espresso Bar in Butler. Pictured holding the art are, from left, Krystin Smith, IAP program manager at In Toto; Sydney Selfridge, In Toto office manager; Michael Bestwick, co-owner of the bake shop; and Autumn Chevalier, bake shop employee and Bestwick's girlfriend. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle
Michael Bestwick, co-owner of Pennie's Bake Shop & Espresso Bar, and Krystin Smith, Inclusive Autism Program manager at In Toto Community Resource Center in Zelienople, hang a painting created by a young In Toto client on a wall at the bake shop in Butler. Four paintings will be displayed at the shop during April, which is Autism Acceptance Month. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle
Michael Bestwick, co-owner of Pennie's Bake Shop & Espresso Bar, and Krystin Smith, Inclusive Autism Program manager at In Toto Community Resource Center in Zelienople, hang a painting created by a young In Toto client on a wall at the bake shop in Butler. Four paintings will be displayed at the shop during April, which is Autism Acceptance Month. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

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