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‘Just differently-abled’: SOAR students display their art, photography

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The community was able to soar with local artists Kathy Osterhus and Renee Rasile Thursday night during an art exhibit at Mean Mug Coffee Co.

Both Osterhus, 38, and Rasile, 38, are part of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Skills, Opportunity, Awareness, Readiness (SOAR) program, which allows adults with intellectual disabilities to become more independent and self-directing with basic literacy and life skills needed for everyday life. They both work at Mean Mug Coffee Co. once per week as part of an internship in the program.

Mean Mug owner Evelyn Medina arranged the exhibit, which displayed both women’s artwork and allowed the public to view and purchase their work.

Medina said working at the coffee shop has allowed both Osterus and Rasile to be exposed to the community and come out of their shell.

“They’re just differently-abled,” Medina said.

Medina added that she’s learned from both women. For example, Osterhus taught her that it’s OK to not have boundaries sometimes and that a hug can mean a lot.

This event, Medina said, reminded her of how talented Rasile is.

Rasile’s mother, Donna, said her daughter had an accident at the age of 19 that caused brain damage and resulted in years of relearning how to walk, talk and swallow. And it took 10 years for Renee to relearn painting. She had been painting since the age of 5 and was always “artsy” in school, her mother said.

Rasile said women are her favorite thing to paint and that her work centers around the theme of a strong, feminine spirit. The work she had on display Thursday included women and flowers, painted in broad strokes, bold colors and a modern style.

She added that the event was exciting for her.

“I was here for five minutes and someone already bought my painting,” Rasile said.

The painting was the first one she had created since she had her accident.

Osterhus has maintain an interest in photography for years. Sunrises are her favorite thing to photograph “because they’re beautiful,” she said. She also takes photos of people, pets and landscapes. Some of the photos on display at the exhibit included shots of the Grand Canyon she captured when travelling the country by train.

In 2019, Osterhus won second place in the Rowan Big Ideas for her new digital photography business, “Special Shots: Pictures with a Purpose.” Half of the revenue from that business is donated to organizations that support the intellectually challenged. Right now, proceeds have gone to the SOAR program.

Osterhus’ favorite part of the event was that it was where she works, she said.

Osterhus’ mother, Cyndi, said the event provided her daughter with an opportunity to be out and talk to people.

Osterhus added that she appreciated her friends coming out to support her.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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