Editor’s note: Only first names of students from Achievement House were used in this story to protect their privacy.
Broke and unemployed isn’t an unusual combination for an artist, but for Lyndon Schaeffer, a career aerospace engineer and artist on the side, it wasn’t exactly his norm.
But when his work contract in Santa Maria didn’t get renewed last year, he decided to stay put in Shell Beach anyway.
- PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
- CREATIVE SPARK: Lyndon Schaeffer, left, works with Rita D. on a piece of art at the Achievement House.
“I just decided I’m going to stay here and do art,” Schaeffer said. “Shell Beach is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life, and I’ve been all over. I want to be part of this community.”
After some soul searching, Schaeffer realized that he’d spent most of his life trying to make as much money as possible, but that never seemed to last. With some financial and emotional support from close friends, his life felt stable enough to focus on helping others instead.
“I just decided I wanted to do something nice for someone else and see where that goes,” he said.
After he spotted a sign for Achievement House, an organization dedicated to providing enrichment programs and work opportunities—like sorting mail and working in a plant nursery—for developmentally disabled adults, he reached out and pitched the idea for an art class that all levels could participate in. For the past six months or so, Schaeffer and his students, who range in age from 18 to 60, have created beautiful, fantastical large-scale drawings of everything from under the sea to a scenic meadow filled with woodland creatures.
- PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
- WORKING IN HARMONY: A piece depicting a meadow created by Lyndon Schaeffer and his students hangs at Achievement House’s downtown SLO location.
Every Wednesday, Schaeffer volunteers his time and hands out coloring-book-style drawings that he personally designs for his students to color in with crayons, markers, and colored pencils. Each flower, fish, or sun is then cut out and stuck onto a larger background drawn by Schaeffer. The finished product is large, around 4 feet by 8 feet, and looks cohesive in spite of being the work of so many artists.
“They get excited; you get feedback,” Shaeffer said of his students. “They let you know how they feel. If they’re happy you know about it, and if they’re not, you know it. The mask is off.”
The week of Christmas, students at Achievement House’s downtown SLO location were busy celebrating the upcoming holiday by watching movies or making a tree craft out of cotton balls and glitter. A few of Schaeffer’s coloring regulars took a break to talk about their weekly art class.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF LYNDON SCHAEFFER
- TIME FOR ART: Lyndon Schaeffer’s students stand in front of a whimsical seascape they worked on together.
A girl named Mary made the scissor motion with her fingers and pantomimed cutting paper to show that she likes cutting out the smaller drawings in class. Bernie said he likes coloring the flowers, while Daniel smiled as he said, “Lyndon is cool. I like it. I like to color and cut.”
Renee Musgrove, program supervisor for Achievement House, said that students enjoying art is key but they’re also building skills.
“The intent was to [find] someone from the outside to teach them real art skills, like primary colors, so they can create on their own,” Musgrove said.
Ryah Cooley has her eye on a Game of Thrones coloring book at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- A PLACE FOR EVERYONE : For more information on Achievement House and its program and businesses for developmentally disabled adults, visit achievementhouse.org.