KATHY BROOK-JOHNSON, associate director for programming at New Morning Shelter, left, checks out a mural in progress by local artist, Jan Shepherd, right, at the shelter. Children at the shelter will be encouraged to create leaves for the tree containing words and phrases to help them process life experiences. Brook-Johnson spearheaded the project after learning about interactive murals at a national conference last November. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene


Mural nurtures discussion and healing

By From page B2 | March 27, 2013

Self-taught artist and muralist Jan Shepherd’s paintings hang in Rinconart Studio and Gallery in Placerville, Crystal Basin Bistro in Camino and in the American Visions Gallery in Folsom.

Now her art decorates a wall of the New Morning Youth and Family Services’ Emergency Shelter in Placerville.

The New Morning Shelter relocated to a brand-new shelter house October 2011 and while the space has been filled with many children, the walls are still blank.

On March 14, Shepherd was putting the finishing touches on a mural of a huge, barren tree. A multitude of branches extend toward the ceiling while strong roots reach for the floor.

This “Tree of Life” won’t be barren for long. It’s part of a concept of healing and discussion that will soon be filled with an abundance of color as youth staying at the shelter add their own emotions, strengths and obstacles in the form of leaves and other symbols to the tree.


New growth

Using a variety of materials, youth who come to stay at the shelter will be encouraged to identify and write their emotions, both positive and negative, on leaves for the tree.

Other symbols will be chosen by the youth to express obstacles they deal with and the strengths they possess.

“We get a great diversity of youth who come here,” said Kathy Brook-Johnson, assistant New Morning director. “Often they feel very alone and isolated. This tree and the leaves on it will be a visual symbol that others have some of the same feelings and issues. It’s a non-threatening way to address some of the reasons kids might be with us.”

Brook-Johnson brought back the idea from the Runaway Homeless Youth National Conference she and New Morning director David Ashby attended in November.

“They  had individual trees on pieces of paper and people added to their own tree,” said Brook-Johnson.” On the way home, I thought about how we could use this idea on one of our beautiful new walls and see everyone’s thoughts instead of doing it in isolation.”

Discussion with Mary Tyler, the shelter manager, sparked more enthusiasm and Brook-Johnson began looking for an artist to implement the concept.

When Shepherd heard about the idea from the Green Valley Community Church community, she was immediately interested.

“At Green Valley, I mentor single mothers and I have a heart for helping people move past their hurts,” Shepherd said.

After meeting with Brook-Johnson and Tyler, she was ready to give their vision a visual symbol.

Brainstorming between Brook-Johnson, Shepherd and Tyler continued as the tree took shape on the wall.

“We’ll be attaching velcro dots to the wall and the leaves so the kids will to be able to take their leaves with them when they leave if they want,” said Brook-Johnson. “This is open-ended — the kids will define the elements of the mural. It will change and evolve as our population changes, which opens up the door for elements of possibility.”


Leaves of life

The three envision a tree full of leaves, sparking discussions with the youth staying in the shelter. With the completion of the tree by afternoon, Brook-Johnson said the conversation would start as soon as the children returned from school.

“If we can help them identify both the positive and negative  things in their lives, and put it out for them to see, then we can begin to help them chip away at the things that are holding them back,” said Shepherd.

New Morning offers a 24-hour emergency shelter free of charge for youth 6-17, counseling services for very young children, children and teens, school-based therapy, parent-based therapy and parenting classes.

Other new avenues for the shelter will be a youth garden and a youth volunteer program.

“We want our children here to be part of giving back to the community,” said Brook-Johnson.

For more information about New Morning Youth and Family Services’ Emergency  Shelter call 530-622-1515,

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

Wendy Schultz

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