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I'm fine...or am I? WellSpan team creates masks, and ponders what's behind them

February 16, 2022

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WellSpan team members (from left, clockwise) Patrick Lee, Latoya Hickman, Mary Kendrick, and Ebony Garner are participating in the "I'm fine" art project.

WellSpan team members (from left, clockwise) Patrick Lee, Latoya Hickman, Mary Kendrick, and Ebony Garner are participating in the "I'm fine" art project.

The WellSpan nurses, nursing assistants and housekeepers all are wearing masks as they file into a conference room in the Ketterman Building on the WellSpan York Hospital campus. 

They are here for a workshop that will help them examine their other masks, the figurative masks that we all have worn to hide our stress, anxiety, panic, and sadness during the past two years of the pandemic. 

The workshop is offered by a statewide project called “I’m fine,” which holds workshops where participants create a ceramic mask to represent the mask they wear to overcome, portray, or minimize their mental health struggles. Funded by the Cultural Alliance of York County, the two ceramic artists who are leading the project are offering workshops to members of the York community, including about 35 WellSpan team members. WellSpan leaders in York recruited team members who have worked on the front line of the pandemic – in areas including intensive care, respiratory, emergency medicine and housekeeping – as participants. 

The WellSpan masks will be displayed with others created locally at York arts center Creative York, from March 31 to May 21, and eventually be part of a statewide exhibit in Harrisburg in 2024. So far, the artists have overseen the creation of 350 masks created by teachers, veterans, teens, community group members and participants across the state during other “I’m fine” workshops. 

One of the participants of the first WellSpan workshop is Mary Kendrick, a nurse who has just completed an overnight shift in the WellSpan York Hospital emergency department. She says, “The pandemic has put a lot of stress on us as health care workers. It definitely hits your soul. I want to express myself and hear other stories from people who are going through the same stuff we all are going through.” 

That happens quickly. 

Soon after the workshop begins, Kendrick and the others sitting around a large table are laughing and engaged in a wide-ranging conversation that touches on Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles, tacos, watching the night sky from your porch, and being a star that shines for others, as artists and workshop leaders Maureen Joyce and Carrie Breschi get the group to loosen up and think about emotions and how they are portrayed. 

The workshop participants begin by creating a drawing that captures their answers to three questions: What is your favorite food? Are you a morning person or a night person? How are you feeling today? They pass their drawing to a neighbor, who describes it to the group with sometimes surprising conclusions. 

“I see a burger here,” says Patrick Lee, a housekeeping employee aide describing the drawing of housekeeping supervisor, Latoya Hickman. “She has a saying, ‘Everyone has issues.’ I see a person here who is saying that. And I see she likes morning. I see a ray of sunshine.” 

Hickman, a mom of five with three at home who puts a lot of energy into balancing her work and home lives, laughs and then tells the group, “Well it was supposed to be a bowl of pasta! And it was me, getting up in the morning, and facing other people’s problems.”  

Heads nod around the table and it gets quiet for a moment. 

Breschi tells the group: “We believe in the healing power of the arts. We believe the arts can reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. We are documenting this time and creating conversations about mental health, and your voices are so important.” 

Find out more about the I’m fine project, see some of the masks created, and hear some of the creators’ stories here. Find mental health support resources here.