Volunteer Tony Pearson (left) and COC person supported Mike Cossolotto (right) at Mike’s exhibit at the Joan Kuyper Farver Art Gallery in the Pella Community Center

A picture is worth a thousand words, and for Christian Opportunity Center person supported Mike Cossolotto, those words tell an incredible story.

Mike is nonverbal, but for the past year and with the help of volunteer Tony Pearson, he has been telling his story through painting. On Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, Mike shared his story through his art show at the Joan Kuyper Farver Art Gallery inside the Pella Community Center.

Tony, a history major and 2014 graduate of Central College, presented the idea of painting to Mike after volunteering at COC through Central’s Service Learning course. Cheri Doane, Director of Community Based Learning, challenged Tony to do something different.

“I was scared and uncomfortable,” said Tony. “But Cheri said she wanted me to go to COC, so I did what she asked and that’s how it all started.”

The two settled on painting after Tony spotted Mike’s fluid hand movement. Mike’s motion was not all that surprising, as his mother is also an artist. But the seemingly insignificant semicircle completely changed Tony’s perspective.

“I no longer saw his disability,” Tony said. “It changed everything about how I work with him and how I approach a person with a disability.”

With the help of Tony and COC staff, Mike has completed 25-30 works of art using many different strategies, including: painting with a special glove, painting with the wheels on his wheelchair and painting using stencils.

But of all the paintings, one has special meaning. Mike indicated that his mom was to have his very first painting. It was featured on the back of the biography cards and booklets at the art show. In addition to Mike’s first work, Tony was impressed by another painting, an abstract that portrays a person riding a bicycle.

“It wasn’t just a bicycle,” Tony said. “Mike’s legs were on either side and there were handlebars. That was a special painting and Mike created it. It was pretty emotional for me.”

Mike discovered an untapped talent due to the efforts Central’s community based learning program and Matthew Kelly’s art courses, COC’s staff and volunteer opportunities, Tony’s commitment and the response of the Pella community.

And Mike provided the vision.

“This is good for our community,” said Tony. “Without Central College, COC, Mike, and the Pella community, this wouldn’t have been possible. I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Mike’s art will be on display through Oct. 15, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m.-4:15 p.m.

Founded in 1969, COC provides residential, vocational and spiritual supports and services to nearly 300 people with disabilities in Dallas, Marion, Mahaska, Warren and Polk counties. For more information visit https://christianopportunity.org/ or connect with Christian Opportunity Center on Facebook.

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