Lauren Houser sees firsthand how art benefits the Springfield community

When she graduated from Wittenberg University in 2013, Lauren “Lo” Houser gave herself a deadline of Aug. 1 to find a job in Springfield or move back home to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“I did not intend on staying in Springfield after graduation when I first came to Wittenberg,” Houser says. “But after 4 years of investing in relationships and getting to know the community, I felt like I was just getting started. I didn’t feel called to go anywhere else. I told myself I would look for a job, and if I couldn’t find a job I was excited about, I would move home.”

On Aug. 1, 2013, Houser did not move home. Instead she began her career with Project Jericho in Springfield.

Project Jericho is a collaborative initiative of Clark State College and Clark County Job and Family Services, with support from The Turner Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.

Founded on the belief that art has the power to change lives and communities, Project Jericho provides in-depth visual and performing arts programming to at-risk youth and families across Clark County.

The programming includes a variety of performing arts workshops, artist residencies and family performances, while encouraging the development of an individual’s talents through music, poetry, painting, dance and theater.

Houser says she belongs to a long lineage of women who attended Wittenberg and then worked at Project Jericho in various roles.

Houser began her tenure at Project Jericho as a part-time creative assistant. Within a year she was able to apply for a full-time position as an outreach and education specialist, and in the summer 2015, she was offered the role of director.

“I’m really fortunate to have been raised by parents who, from a young age said, ‘It’s about relationships. Everything is about relationships and building relationships,’” she says. “I had so many opportunities while I was in college to get to know the Springfield community and to build connections and to invest outside of Wittenberg’s campus.”

In her role at Project Jericho, Houser says she has access to many more families and people that she wouldn’t normally have a fluid and natural way of interacting and sharing life with.

“In gaining access to families, youth and teenagers in our communities – just meeting them – that’s when I fall in love with this community (even more),” she says. “The people are what makes this place, and I stand by that.

“There is a quote by someone much wiser than me that said, ‘There is no one that I don’t think you would love if you just got to know their story.’ For 8 years now I’ve gotten to know people’s stories, and they’re powerful, beautiful and of course it includes pain and hardships, but I get to work with the best people on this side of Heaven.”

Project Jericho uses art as a medium to change lives in the community. Houser says she believes we are all created to create and that can “look a million different ways.”

“At Project Jericho we want people to rise to their fullest potential,” she says. “We want people to live life to the fullest in the most healthy and vibrant ways. Art unlocks and exposes the best of us, and we see time and time again that through the process of making art - whether it is visual or performance – it’s through the process of engaging in art and letting art have its way with us that we get to see the best in people.”

While most of Project Jericho’s programming is held in person, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to switch gears. Houser says early in the pandemic, art was needed more than anything.

“We were divided. We were isolated,” she says. “Art always connects us and heals us, unites us and inspires. It’s a catalyst for more goodness. Most recently art has lifted our spirits and opened our minds, and it sets us free to be the best versions of ourselves.”

Houser says she has high expectations that Project Jericho will be able to provide more in-person programming and more community celebrations and gatherings in 2021 as community health improves.

Through the pandemic, Houser says she has led with empathy, knowing those at Project Jericho were doing their best to bring art to the families they serve.

“We did porch visits, celebrated birthdays with (families). We kept the humanity and relationships; those were not put on pause because in-person programming was postponed,” she says. “We have always said at Project Jericho that this is a family, and coming out of 2020 and still now those words have never felt truer.”

Houser says Project Jericho is fond of investing in local artists and has also had opportunities to bring in national artists to work with families and students. Teaching artists have assisted participants with murals, individual projects, camps and annual events such as Project Sacre-A-Crow and ChalkFEST.

“Our teaching artists are set up to do what they do best; not only to be incredibly talented in creating their own art but unlocking that in our participants,” she says. “We have an incredible arts community in Springfield and Dayton. There is something really beautiful about that.”

Houser says she can’t pinpoint a favorite project, but that in each moment she knows “it’s just what we need.”

“When I think about how I want to spend my days, there is nothing I would rather be doing,” Houser says. “Vincent van Gogh said, ‘There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.’ I get to have a front row seat in people’s lives, and there is no greater honor than to walk through this life with them, whether in challenging times or their best days and victories.”

Houser says relationships are permanent, and she can’t imagine waking up and not showing up in the way the Springfield community does.

“At Project Jericho, our families are resilient and gritty, and they have so much goodness to offer,” she says. “There is no place I’d rather be. I’m so grateful that people had the vision to create a program like this. We are really fortunate to have this here, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Youth and families who may be interested in Project Jericho programming can use the referral form here or by contacting Project Jericho directly at 937-328-3869.

Read more articles by Darci Jordan.

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