Art therapy alumna grateful for Wayne State ties, gives back to community
Janis Rossman-Kaufman, founder and director of the Neighborhood Services Organization's Life Choices Art Therapy/Art Microenterprise program, credits her success to Wayne State University, where she enrolled after graduating from Southfield High School.
"Wayne State was the only school I had any desire to attend because I always worked full-time, and it was set up so I could continue to work and earn a living while I was going to school," she said. "That was definitely a plus for me."
After earning a bachelor of fine arts, Rossman-Kaufman worked as a print production manager and taught kindergarten and special education for the Detroit Public Schools. After serving 35 years as a creative director, she wanted to use her artistic talent to give back. Rossman-Kaufman returned to Wayne State to earn a master's in art therapy and began the journey toward what she calls her "heartwork."
"While I was going through the program, I was a director at Freedom Place. I created activities and programs at the clubhouse where kids could come every day," she said. "Because of the education I received at Wayne State, I learned how to work with a variety of populations."
Rossman-Kaufman joined Neighborhood Services Organization, where she set up a table by the door and led art activities for consumers while they waited for their psychiatric appointments. This marked the beginning of the Life Choices Art Therapy/Art Microenterprise program, an initiative that helps intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals strengthen their creative abilities, life skills, earning power and community involvement. During the last 14 years, it has grown from 20 people to more than 100. There is an entire room dedicated to the program, and Rossman-Kaufman visits adult foster care homes to work with people who are not able to travel to the agency.
This summer, Life Choices received funding through Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Week of Caring to develop an on-site retail store. The initiative was also recently named Program of the Year by The ARC Detroit. Rossman-Kaufman said she was surprised and humbled by the honor.
"I am proud because I have worked very hard to build a program that our consumers enjoy," she said. "Most of all, I am happy for our consumers. They are proud of the fact that they work hard every day and are being honored in this way. It is something like a dream."
Rossman-Kaufman says she could not have accomplished what she has without support and involvement from Wayne State.
"Wayne State has allowed me to have art therapy interns and service-learning students. Through Camp Evaluate, we were also able to obtain a marketing plan," she said. "The university has provided ongoing support to help our consumers achieve their goals and dreams."
Rossman-Kaufman finds her work - which is focused on helping intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals live their best lives - rewarding.
"We are here together in this universe to help and support one another, and it has just been a blessing to work with and learn from our consumers, she said. "They know I am like their Jewish mother. I make sure they are living their lives the way they want to. They deserve to do that-just like the rest of us. We definitely have their best interests at heart, and they know it is something they can count on."
by Tracy A. Walker