For many developmentally disabled, homeless or mentally ill adults, the Vista Center in Flint is a place of community and compassion. “Many of our clients need contact, not crisis. We provide a place where they can come to get out of the house and escape loneliness and isolation,” explains director, Pat Beal. “We provide options for them that they may never get otherwise.”
Started in 1985 under the City of Flint’s Aging and Handicapped Office and in collaboration with the national AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) Program, the Vista Center has helped thousands of people over the years gain a sense of freedom, respect and help in their everyday lives. Now under the umbrella of Genesee Health System (GHS), the Vista Center provides short-term counseling, intervention and referrals to appropriate agencies, housing assistance, field trips, group enrichment activities and sports, a literacy program including skill-building, tutoring and resume design, art enrichment therapy, part-time employment and hygiene supplies. “GHS is currently our main funding provider,” adds Beal, “but we also receive help for our programs through grants from GFAC (Greater Flint Arts Council) and the Ruth Mott Foundation.” In the past, the Center has worked in collaboration with area college programs such as Baker’s occupational therapy program and UM-Flint’s nursing program.
“The Vista Center will continue to add programming that bolsters the quality of life of our patrons whether through art, dance or other creative outlets.”
The Vista Center’s client population comes to them from professional referrals and walk-ins. Participation in the programs is optional, but many choose to attend at least once or twice a month with a few arriving every day to help run activities, engage support and find friends. “Since the pandemic occurred, our participation has been down, especially amongst the homeless,” says Beal.
Recently, the Vista Center moved to a new location inside the Genesee Valley Mall (JC Penney wing) from their former home on Garland Street in Downtown Flint, and the organization has opened the Vista Visions Art Gallery displaying and selling creations made by their clientele and volunteers. “Our people are very proud of their work and feel vindication of their own self worth through something visible they have made,” says Beal. Art Therapy was added to the treatment options at Vista Center in the late 1980s after bringing in a graduate art student to lead the activities. The Center staff includes an artist to help the participants.
“The program gives people the chance to apply their creativity,” Beal adds. “Art acts as a way to vent frustrations and express feelings that they may not know how to express otherwise. Every piece of art you see in the gallery is a piece of the artist’s soul.” Gallery admission is free and the majority of the art is for sale. Besides the Vista Visions Gallery, the Vista Center displays work in the Courtland Center Mall and Huntington Bank in Downtown Flint. Beal is organizing a future exhibit in Lake Orion and at Saginaw Valley State University. It is with hope that the gallery provides a sense of accomplishment and confidence to the many artists who contribute.
After 35 years at the Vista Center, Beal continues to find ideas for helping it grow. “There are people on our board who came through Vista and they have great ideas as to what activities to add,” he says. “We are always looking for suggestions and improvements.” Beal also encourages support for the entire mentally ill and developmentally challenged community. “You can support us best by working to destigmatize mental illness and homelessness and supporting their growth,” he states.
The Vista Center is also happy to receive donations of art supplies (paint brushes, canvases, etc.), field trip perks (free admissions, gift certificates) and funding. The Center currently needs a van and/or van driver for transport to trip destinations and activities. The Vista Center is an IRS-approved, non-profit organization and tax-deductible donations can be made at thevistacenter.org, in person at the gallery, or via mail to PO Box 919 Flint, MI 48501.
Beal is constantly encouraged by his clients’ progress. “The camaraderie I see developing between the people here every day is inspiring,” he says. “The Vista Center will continue to add programming that bolsters the quality of life of our patrons whether through art, dance or other creative outlets. It’s great to see the good things happening here and the great response of guests to our gallery.”
The Vista Visions Art Gallery is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 3pm, or by appointment. For further inquiries, call 810.766.7085.
Photography by Tim Jagielo