(WKBN) — All month long, WKBN has been introducing you to Remarkable Women in the community. Now, we’re thrilled to officially announce our winner!
Sometimes, beauty can emerge from tragedy. It doesn’t always happen right away, and sometimes it’s in the quiet moments of remembrance.
That’s where Terri DiGennaro‘s story starts, but not how it ends. She’s found passion and purpose in art — starting with a blank canvas after losing her son seven years ago.
Art in any medium is a form of expression. It brings life to color, movement to design and serves as a creative outlet for many.
“Art, I have learned, is such a subconscious response to so many things,” DiGennaro said.
DiGennaro tragically lost her son Ryan in 2015. As any mom will tell you, it’s still hard to talk about.
She describes Ryan as an artist at heart. It was his passion, his therapy and his escape.
“It was very personal. It would be in places that were blighted, falling apart — that was his canvas,” she said. “It just brought that life to it.”
Ryan believed he was rewriting history within those fallen walls along the Youngstown landscape, giving life to a broken canvas, each design marked with his signature.
“‘HELMS’ was my son’s tag. And for anyone that knows anything about graffiti, you have a tag. It could be a symbol, some letters, your name — there’s many definitions for it,” DiGennaro said.
What it means, she says she doesn’t know, but it was special to Ryan. When he passed, it would lay the groundwork for what would soon become the Ryan Giambattista HELMS Foundation.
“It was terrible, what we went through,” she said. “Maybe that’s why I’m driven — because I don’t want anyone else to struggle like that.”
Spearheaded by DiGennaro, the foundation promotes and provides art therapy services and programs to those in need throughout our community.
“I can’t imagine someone not having that ability. I’m not saying it’s for everybody, I’m not saying it’s the cure-all — I’m just saying not to have that available — that resource there and handled by a professional, which I would have loved to have found that person for him,” DiGennaro said.
The HELMS foundation now has full-time therapists on staff helping to promote the development of art therapy throughout the Mahoning Valley.
“What they have done so far is amazing. The feedback I have gotten is so positive, and the areas that we’re in are just so impactful,” she said.
The group is continuing to expand. DiGennaro dreams of one day having an independent art therapy studio.
“It would really be the only one in our area, and we are working toward that,” she said.
Ryan’s legacy continues to live on in his art and the foundation which he inspired, sharing the therapeutic benefits of artistic expression.
For his mom, that means everything.
“You should never celebrate a tragedy, in my mind,” DiGennaro said. “Sometimes, I think, it shouldn’t have taken that for me to realize that there’s such a need. There’s so many mixed emotions that I go through on a daily basis with this. I’m just glad that I’m a part of my son’s dream.”