IGNACIO – Little pockets of creativity pop up around Ignacio, including the banners, painted by young artists, that line the main street or the hand-painted decorations in “Inspiration Square.” These bursts of color are, in part, the efforts of Kasey Correia, a community changemaker, as she tries to bring healing and empowerment to Ignacio through the arts.
Correia, 61, a local business owner who holds art therapy programs, has been in a leading position in just about every organization in Ignacio. Her efforts and partnerships with others have created easy access to resources for community members in a town that is focused on growth. Others say she is passionate, perhaps overextended. Correia sees her drive as a product of a difficult challenges and long journey of healing.
“There are little bits of Kasey all over town,” said Gina Schulz, board president for Education, Literacy, Health and Inspiration, a nonprofit cooperative that supports other nonprofits.
To attribute Correia’s work to just one entity is to miss what makes her, her. Currently, Correia co-owns the town flower shop, rental properties and a metal button factory with her wife, Melody Hedin. When she’s not working on her ranch, Correia is helping Ignacio develop a certified creative district or serving as a board member.
“She’s a vocal member of the community,” said Mark Garcia, town manager. “There’s definitely some vision and some stuff she’s trying to bring together.”
Since she moved to Ignacio in 2000, Correia has been a member of Ignacio’s planning committee, a town board trustee, a mayor pro-tem, and even a mayoral candidate. She co-founded Dancing Spirit Community Center, where her art therapy programs take place. She also was instrumental in founding ELHI, which houses nine service organizations, provides a free lunch program, houses different therapy practices and serves as community center.
“You wonder why I have all these jobs? It’s just survival,” she said, adding that they’re still recovering from the 2008 economic downturn. But, when she’s felt lost, Ignacio supported her. “This community is salt of the earth.”
Occasionally, Correia’s passion carries her too far, and she takes on too much, said both Hedin and Schulz.
With cooperatives like ELHI, the model is “many hands make light work,” Schulz said. “But often, what that looks like is one person doing an awful lot of work ... and often, that’s Kasey, right? She’s there pushing.”
Correia said her drive comes, in part, from the early challenges and the strength she’s found after years of healing through art and spirituality.
“My childhood was rough,” she said. Her mother would alternate between loving hugs and harsh words, telling her she was “no good.” Her parents fought, and her father ignored her sexuality until years later. Correia didn’t have many safe places. One of them was at her great-grandmother’s house, but it was there that a relative molested her.
“I was 9, powerless,” she said. For years, she was in a negative place, she almost overdosed several times. “I just didn’t care.”
Eventually, she found supportive friends and more support from her family. When New Mexico legalized gay marriage in 2013, she asked her father to be her witness at her wedding.
“I said, ‘Dad will you stand for me?’ and he said ‘yes,’” she said, her voice catching and eyes tearing up at the memory. “He started bawling; I started bawling.”
Correia also found healing through different therapies, especially her own version of art therapy – working with clay. Through art, Correia could express herself and learned to connect.
“If you don’t connect to yourself first, you can’t connect to anything,” she said.
Looking back, the fact that she has healed from her abuse just proves that she could get through it and that the “troughs of life” were temporary. Now, in her art therapy programs, Correia wants to share that resiliency. She sees her experiences as strengths that help her connect with young people who might be experiencing rape, abuse, historical trauma and other challenges.
“I took the negative experience, turned it into a positive and then empowered myself to be able to touch other people’s lives,” she said. “That’s therapeutic healing through the arts.”