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Come February 14, every inpatient at UW Medical Center will receive a handmade valentine. Some will be adorned with glitter and ribbons, others with puffy heart stickers and sweet Valentine’s Day puns. Each one will be unique and each one — all 550 — will have been made with love for our patients.

Every midwinter for the past decade, Karen Neuhard-Forsythe, the Art Program manager for UWMC, carts boxes filled to the brim with crafting supplies to multiple workshops for faculty, staff and students to make valentines for UWMC’s patients. The supplies transform a drab meeting room into a scrapbooker’s dream. Boxes overflow with decorative papers, stickers, rubber stamps, paper punches, glitter glue, red-and-white-striped baker’s twine, buttons, beads, ribbons, pipe-cleaners, googly eyes. For the experienced and/or brave, there is a table in the corner for embossing work — a process that involves ultra-fine-grain glitter and a sort of miniature blow torch.

Some people pop in and make a quick card or two. Others stay for hours. One woman, who has been coming since the beginning, has a habit of making 60–70 cards each year.

“People are so happy and excited to be able to do something like this,” says Neuhard-Forsythe. Part of the appeal is doing something — ahem — heartfelt for patients.  Also, it’s undeniably fun. Many groups come back every year for a little team-building that doubles as service work and arts-and-crafts time.

a valentine


Neuhard-Forsythe, a former high school art teacher, believes that people are healthier, happier and more productive when they have creative outlets in their lives. “The arts should be more than just an observational process. I strongly believe everyone should have regular opportunities to roll up their sleeves and physically engage in the creative process, whatever that might be.”

Participants who have engaged in this particular creative process use words like “wonderful,” “energizing” and “joyful” to describe the experience.

Not everyone is entirely sure what to do with themselves when presented with a pile of art supplies and an open-ended invitation to be creative. “Most of the questions I get are around getting started on their card, technical questions about materials because they aren’t familiar with the supplies, or just a quick pep talk getting them to relax and believe in themselves and have fun.” Assures Neuhard-Forsythe, “There is no wrong answer when making art!”


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