Walking into the AHRC Nassau East Meadow Art Gallery, earlier this winter, heavenly snow scenes were on full display. The exhibit could have been inspired by a holiday card. Instead, it was a tribute to two very special staff, who’ve already earned their wings.
Assistant Manager Margaret Dunor-Collins and Art Mentor Darnilda Daza spend their days supporting artists with developmental disabilities – offering encouragement, physical support and advice at the gallery. While the gallery serves as a studio and exhibit space for the artists, it is also a day habilitation program focusing on skills of everyday living and advocacy.
Margaret and Darnilda recently shared with the artists their experiences as breast cancer survivors. It happened during an unexpected but meaningful moment. The artists and staff were celebrating Thanksgiving, when a light-hearted game became something more.
A bag with song lyrics was passed around. Everyone chose a slip of paper, and then shared what they were most thankful for incorporating the chosen lyric.
Margaret picked, “Living life is fun and we’ve just begun. We are family.” It inspired her to open up.
“When I came here, my life was about fun,” Margaret remembers. “I was quiet, then when this thing hit me I knew I had to be an advocate. I speak about it at my church; it’s so important to get checked. I caught it in time – next April will be 11 years.”
Darnilda chose, “Because I’m happy. Clap your hands like a room without a roof.”
“After I got cancer, I discovered I had to live my life,” says Darnilda. “I used to worry about everyone but myself. We don’t have too much time so we need to believe in what makes us happy. I am happy working for this company.”
This was the second time, that Darnilda shared her story. In October, Darnilda spoke about Breast Cancer Awareness month as part of the regular advocacy updates given at the gallery. The artists were so touched, they made and presented Darnilda with a wreath incorporating the breast cancer ribbon.
Now aware of both Margaret and Darnilda’s experiences, the artists chose to donate the $300 proceeds from their winter exhibit to CancerCare, a cancer organization supporting the daily needs of people in the midst of treatment.
“I’d like to say beyond women, children and men also get breast cancer. Everyone needs to check themselves,” said Margaret.
For more information about breast cancer, please visit www.breastcancer.org.