Hillcrest resident is Disability Awareness Month 2013 honoree
By Monica Medina | KPBS
Linda Bounds is a petite, sprightly woman with a lot of heart and grit.
For years, she did what was expected of her: working full-time, taking care of her husband and two children, paying the bills, keeping their home and preparing the meals. But when her marriage ended after 22 years, and her children chose to live with their dad, Bounds found herself living in a trailer on her own, and knew it was time to reinvent herself.
No longer wanting to be defined by others, she began to pursue her passion, living life on her terms and doing what she loved most: art.
In the process, she found herself. Bounds, a KPBS 2013 Disability Awareness Month Local Hero, began by creating a list, one she kept secret from prying eyes.
“I grew up with a belief system that artists don’t make any money until they die,” she said. “So once I made that list, I decided that I would have multiple streams of income as an artist. Each day when I got out of work as a high school guidance counselor, I would start investigating one of those things on the yellow pad and I would tell no one, absolutely no one.”
For the first year, she lived frugally, relying on her divorce settlement while she went through her list, circling the items that interested her most. One of those was teaching art to seniors. She turned to a friend who worked in a convalescent home and explained what she wanted to do and how she’d first need some experience. Bounds then asked if it would be okay to pilot a program at the facility, teaching art to Alzheimer’s patients.
But when she arrived to get her class off the ground, her friend had to tend to an emergency and asked her to take a seat and wait. While waiting, she began to have doubts.
“My biggest fear had always been death, and suddenly I was surrounded by the smell of death and sickness, and it was stifling,” Bounds said. “I wanted to bolt, but there was also a part of me that said, ‘Stay. You can do this.’ And so I did.”
Bounds rounded up five patients. “I had to beg them to take the class, though I had no idea how to go about it as I’d never taught art before,” she said. “Since I use oil paints and love it, I decided to teach using oils. Together, the class painted one large canvas. It was a beautiful experience.”
Ever since that first eight-week class, Bounds has been teaching art to seniors and people with disabilities through her program, LEAPS and Bounds.
“What happens in the room is quite magical,” she said. “My teaching style shows them how to be successful from the moment they pick the brush up, and even before they pick up the brush. We do it with humor and positive thought that empowers each individual. I may be teaching a whole class, sometimes 50 at a time, but I make it a practice to teach them one on one, so I can find out about each person.”
In the class, she seeks to build self-esteem and foster a sense of community. It is all about the interaction. Watching Bounds lead the class is like experiencing a cascade of colors take flight.
Holding up a landscape painting the class has been working on, she asks, “What color do we guess for the sky?”
“Blue!” They shout back.
“What’s my favorite blue?”
On cue, they respond, “Cerulean!”
After the class confirms Bounds’ favorite shade of blue – Cerulean, they confirm – she holds up a bottle of an auburn colored liquid and says, “Most call this linseed oil, but what do we call it here?”
“Magic potion!” the class says in unison, causing Bounds to beam with delight.
Her rapport with the patients, most of who are in wheelchairs and in various stages of capability, is abundantly clear. She asks for hugs, praises their work, and gives her all to ensure each one feels truly special. If anyone arrives late, she takes it in stride and applauds them for making it to class.
Walking up to a patient who can no longer speak, she proclaims to the class, “Serge and I have a very unusual relationship. We don’t need words.” Bounds then softly caresses Serge’s cheek, and the elation in his eyes is genuine.
As Bounds later explains, “They are all engaging individually with me and together as a group to do something that most would think impossible for themselves.”
Bounds firmly believes that anyone who can scribble can do art and has had patients who come to her class obstinately believing they can’t paint.
“Science and medicine belong to the left brain,” she said. “These patients are using their left brain all day, talking to health care professionals about their medication, their treatments and their well-being. I encourage them to discover the creativity they have in their right brain. We do exercises that inspire them and get them in the mood for painting. It works.”
Because of her work, Bounds has seen her share of death, which also has helped her overcome her fear of it.
“In general, people are afraid to talk about death. Not me,” she said. “I’ll ask, ‘Are you afraid of dying?’ And they’re grateful that they can talk about it. I stay with them. Sometimes I’m the last person they speak to, and they whisper their words in my ear. I’ll even ask them for advice. When you’re dying, there is no B.S.”
Bounds sees all her students as whole, no matter their disability. “If they are breathing and can communicate, to me they’re whole. I can still teach them, no matter how close they are to dying,” she said.
She remembers Marie, a petite and frail patient, who one day stopped coming to class. When Bounds inquired about Marie, she was told that Marie could no longer come to class because she was dying.
“I asked where she was,” Bounds recalls, “and found her in the hall, lying on a gurney, weakened and with her eyes closed. I asked her if she wanted to paint. She couldn’t speak or open her eyes. I asked her to move her eyes if she wanted to join us. She did. I touched her hand and felt her respond to my touch.”
Bounds said she is thrilled to be honored as a Local Hero, and calls her work her “passion.” She can think of no greater gift than to be remembered as someone who models self-love.
“It starts inside,” she said. “Love yourself and you’ll discover your passion in life.”
Indeed, Bounds has come a long way since the days of living in a trailer and keeping a list on a yellow pad. Her nose crinkled with a broad smile as she reflects on how far she’s come.
“I didn’t want anyone to tell me I couldn’t achieve my dream,” she said. “I wanted and needed to be boundless.”
—Monica Medina is director of diversity, engagement and grants at KPBS, and oversees their Local Hero program, a partnership between Union Bank and KPBS. This story on Linda Bounds first appeared on kpbs.org Oct. 1.