Exploration of First Fridays leads Elizabethtown grad to life of service
Laughter wells up from deep inside Ally Rohland, bursting forth and blanketing those around her with a genuine sense of well-being and joy. Her smile is broad and sincere. Her voice reassuring. She drinks in each moment of life with wonder.
Rohland works each day in a room filled with individuals who are just like her. They bubble over with enthusiasm and curiosity; they practically vibrate with a passion for life. But, there is a significant difference between Rohland and the others. Unlike her, they are differently abled, adults with intellectual disabilities who come to her place of employment to explore a part of themselves that, until now, might have lain dormant, untapped.
Rohland, a 2014 Elizabethtown College English-professional writing graduate, gives back to her community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as coordinator at Friendship Heart Gallery. The Gallery, an extension of Friendship Community, provides a venue for artistic expression for adults with intellectual disabilities and offers their creations at the non-profit gallery in Lancaster City.
It was perfect timing for them and perfect timing for this transitional time in my life.”
It was a love of Lancaster’s First Fridays and the city’s Gallery Row, along Prince Street and surrounding avenues, that initially drew Rohland to Friendship Heart.
“When I moved to downtown Lancaster I loved to explore,” she said. “I’d see the galleries on First Friday and I’d think how cool it would be to work there. Maybe do social media or marketing.”
When she came across Friendship Heart Gallery, Rohland said she was immediately jazzed by their motto, “expressing capabilities,” which harkened back to E-town’s mission of “educate for service.”
She emailed the gallery asking about a job.
“It was perfect timing for them and perfect timing for this transitional time in my life,” she said, about her first year after graduation. The Gallery hired her as a part-time instructor and, for two and a half years, Rohland worked with the ‘heart artists,’ watching them—and herself–grow in confidence and ability. During that time, she also worked in retail, as a server and as a pet sitting assistant, but her heart belonged with the gallery’s mission.
Soon, she was fulltime, splitting her hours between working in the studio with the ‘heart artists’ and in the gallery where their creations are sold.
As a nonprofit, Friendship Heart Gallery staffing is limited, Rohland said. There is a need for employees to be jacks-of-all-trades. She credits her “real-world learning experiences at Elizabethtown” with her ability to wear multiple hats. In classes and internships, she learned about coordinating schedules, collaboration and communication, she said.
“My internship in the (College’s) Office of Marketing and Communications was absolutely amazing. It is so beneficial when I’m writing press releases and social media posts. I use HTML, InDesign and WordPress,” and, she said, the experience gained in the project management is “so valuable.”
In March 2017, Rohland said, she became Gallery coordinator, overseeing the instructional staff, working with funding and budgeting, building business partnerships. She was excited to be a part of the city’s arts and culture growth and of service to the ‘heart artists’.
The individuals—around 70 of them ages 18 through 76—face challenges that range from Down Syndrome to the autism spectrum to mental health diagnoses of bipolar or schizophrenia. The term ‘individuals’, she said, solidifies the distinct capabilities of every one of us. “They each impact the world in some way, and the gallery is a place to uncover hidden talents.”
The program also helps the ‘heart artists’ with economic independence, Rohland said, referring to money the artists make in the gallery and online.
Some of the individuals, she said, come to the gallery just because they love to paint; others set personal financial goals of going out to eat, buying a phone, going on a family vacation.
“One individual, who attends three days a week, has his art in every single outside exhibit,” Rohland said. “He wrote a list of places he would like to travel.”
And, Rohland said, she’s confident he’ll go to all of them.