Art auction fundraiser helps restart veterans' lives

Clean and sober and wearing his Baltimore Station T-shirt, Vietnam War veteran Jeff Chaney had something to prove as he worked at an art auction and gala at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Homeland on Veterans Day.

“I can give 100 percent,” said the Baltimore native, 58, who served time for assault before learning about Baltimore Station, a long-term residential recovery program for men, many of whom are veterans battling homelessness, joblessness and substance abuse.

Chaney has lived at Baltimore Station in south Baltimore for the past five months.

“It's lovely,” he said.

Residents can live there for up to two years, as long as they remain drug- and alcohol-free. Chaney isn't planning on leaving any time soon.

“This is the longest I’ve ever been sober,” said the bandana-clad Chaney, who rubbed elbows with an estimated 300 people at the annual event called “re-StART with Art.”

Some of the attendees were high school students from around Baltimore County. The students, most members of their schools' National Art Honor Society chapters, contributed paintings and photos, as well as specially painted doors that symbolized doors to recovery for the homeless and addicted men.

The students also served as volunteers, working alongside Baltimore Station residents like Chaney.

“It's all about helping them build new futures,” said Jenna Rohde, a junior at Franklin High in Reisterstown.

Also donating art to be auctioned at the annual fundraiser were professional artists and Baltimore Station graduates, as well as students from the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Federal Hill restaurants donated food. Second Chance, a nonprofit retail store in Baltimore, donated nine doors that the students painted. Second Chance sells salvage materials and uses the profits to provide job skills training to unemployed people.

“I'm interested in how much it will sell for,” said Colleen Coleman, a Catonsville High School senior, who painted a door that showed a girl surrounded by colors and shapes.

Coleman said her door was intended as a message of hope, to show “how the things all around you can be inspiring.”

Katie McGlone, a junior at Franklin High, painted pastels of a pear to sell at the event's live and silent auctions. Her artwork was labeled “Fruit No. 3.”

“It's actually my first time working with oil pastel,” said the National Art Society member.

Some students were there because their parents are actively involved with Baltimore Station.

Madeline White, a junior at Westminster High, designed a door that depicted a barren landscape in front of a fence and a serene meadow with backlit trees behind the fence.

It also included White’s personal written message, which said, “My nightmares can't follow me into my reality, unless I allow it. My past, my pain is just another nightmare. I don't let it hold me back. I escape.”

White, whose mother, Judith James, is Baltimore Station's volunteer coordinator, was volunteering for the third year in a row. But her door was not part of a school art project.

“My high school doesn't even know I did it,” White said.

Towson High senior Julia Muhl said she painted a door last year, dark on one side and light on the other.

“I like helping people,” Muhl said.

This year, she came to help her best friend's mom, Kathleen Lechleiter, of Towson, an architect, who served as co-chair of the fundraising event.

“It's a great cause,” said Mount Washington resident Alex Kramer, the other-co-chair, who works for an architectural and design firm.

Kramer said his involvement is partly personal, because his brother is a veteran, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Fortunately, he came back well, but not everybody does,” Kramer said.

Chaney is one who didn’t, but he said he’s doing better now. He said he and other residents are eager not only to become self-sufficient through the Baltimore Station program, but also to show their appreciation for those who have helped them.

That’s why he bustled around busily at the art auction.

“It’s a fundraiser for us, but it’s a chance for us to give back, too,” he said.

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