Popular virtual Avivo CSP tea tasting group turns into in-person ceramics project

A virtual tea tasting group started for Avivo’s Community Support Program (CSP) participants during the pandemic has led to a new, in-person ceramics project. Participants are working with Avivo staff to create ceramic tea sets, including tea pots, cups, and even trays.

“We’re not just doing a clay art project, we’re really learning how to work with clay,” shares Justin Carlson, program supervisor for Avivo’s CSP program. Justin isn’t new to ceramics – he worked in a pottery studio for three years.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed how people interact. To help keep participants safe, Avivo’s Community Support Program moved online-only in early 2020. Shortly after that, the program was re-envisioned to be more COVID-safe, with less in-person, site-based programming. That change encouraged meeting outdoors or in large, open community centers. As in-person attendance started to grow again, the virtual Tea Tasting Group started by Mary Newstrom, wellness coach at Avivo, continued to find consistent attendance.

“In the beginning we had a whole bunch of CSP members whose only experience with a hot drink was coffee,” shares Justin. “Now we’re getting together on Zoom and enjoying and tasting tea from around the world… Mary, who started the Tea Tasting Group, delivered tea samples to our participants all over town. Now, we’re celebrating that tea appreciation with this clay project.”

“In the beginning we had a whole bunch of CSP members whose only experience with a hot drink was coffee,” shares Justin. “Now we’re getting together on Zoom and enjoying and tasting tea from around the world… Mary, who started the Tea Tasting Group, delivered tea samples to our participants all over town. Now, we’re celebrating that tea appreciation with this clay project.”

“This clay programming provides a regular activity for members to do as a community, and it also teaches a muscle memory and a skillset [in ceramics and art]. Ultimately, if someone wanted to launch a career as a hand-built artist or find a job working at a ceramic studio, this is absolutely the skillset they’d use.”

Justin is excited to see how in-person attendance at meetings and gatherings has grown since Avivo moved programming into the Grain Belt Bottling House building and activities have become more regular. At this new location, staff use time with CSP members to connect on important issues in their lives.

“For me, Avivo is a safe place because staff make sure we’re safe and together in our community,” shares one CSP participant.

“For me, Avivo is a safe place because staff make sure we’re safe and together in our community,” shares one CSP participant.

Justin shares that when it comes to everybody’s goals, some people have more things on their to-do list.

“It’s good to know you can find a staff member who’ll help you work on some paperwork that might be stressing you out, or even help with your taxes – we’ve got resources we can link people to,” shares Justin. “We have a really great team here to help meet people where they are. It takes time to rebuild relationships and make new friends, and thankfully with these new open studio sessions we’ve seen a lot of new faces, or even faces we haven’t seen in a few months. That’s really been something and we’re excited for the future.”

Avivo’s Community Support Program offers much-needed connection and support for adults living with mental illness, and consists of three focus areas: FoodWorks, NatureWorks, and ArtWorks. Learn more about Avivo’s Community Support Program and discover a list of upcoming activities. 

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