Empowerment and confidence lie at the heart of Saba Shahid '09 and her work with The Art Cart.
She founded this powerful initiative, a creativity and movement program for people living with Parkinson's disease (PD) and those living with the "inability to smile" as a symptom of their disease. They are based out of Massachusetts but travel throughout the United States to be accessible to the various PD populations and bring their workshops to a location close to their home. As Chief Smiling Officer, she is guided by her desire to spread smiles.
The idea for the Art Cart was born at Holy Cross High School. Saba, then a senior, was working on an art-based service project for her Girl Scout Gold Award. "(Art Teachers) Mrs. (Rosanne) Shea and Mr. (Michael) Marseglia really piqued my interest in art," she said. "For my final project, I painted ceiling tiles and created an Art Cart that had various art supplies for the children of the Bridgeport Hospital's Pediatric Unit so that they had something inspiring to look at and do while they were in the hospital."
The school also held a volleyball tournament while Saba was working on her project. Students brought an art supply in for their admission to the game. Saba had no idea that these early endeavors would be the inspiration for her profession.
"Holy Cross holds a very special place in my heart," said Saba. "The community feeling that was born there and the support that I got there really helped fuel my desire to combine art and medicine."
After high school, Saba's educational and professional trajectories veered towards medicine. In 2014, she was working in a corporate job and applying to medical school. However, she wanted to find a job that combined her two passions. She also developed a deep commitment to those in the PD population after her mother-in-law passed away from it.
The Art Cart is comprised of the Smile Through Art Workshop and the Let's Combat Microgrpahia Workshop. "We began with Smile Through Art, a creativity and movement program. We teach people with PD how to improve their symptoms such as fine and gross motor skills, rigidity, depression, and tremors while increasing their confidence to learn how to live better with their symptoms instead of feeling burdened by them. We found ways to improve those symptoms with art and exercise."
A good percentage of people with PD have tremors in their hands. Consequently, there is a lack of confidence to use those hands. Saba uses art to teach them how to finger paint through specific commands. "They create this beautiful piece and gain the confidence back in themselves. It is a remarkable moment when you see someone with PD using their own two hands. You also see that glimmer of hope in their eyes when they realize they created the piece in front of them independently."
The Let's Combat Micrographia Workshops focuses specifically on how to improve small handwriting while increasing confidence in the process of writing. Saba has worked closely with people living with PD to understand micrographia and has developed techniques that work to improve this symptom.
In 2016, Saba released Let's Combat Micrographia: An Interactive Workbook to Help Those Living with Parkinson's Disease. This very successful book shows those living those with PD methods to improve their symptoms of micrographia. In 2019, Saba and the book were recognized by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. "They gave us a grant to revamp the book based off of the years of work that we were doing," she said. "We released our second edition in 2019. It sells internationally."
The Art Cart has seen a tremendous growth since its inception in an effort to reach as many people in the PD community as possible. "It is pretty amazing and rewarding to see how people with PD react to coming to the workshops. PD is a dominantly male disorder. Men that have not done anything creative in a while will cautiously approach the art workshops and end up loving them."
Recently, Saba was named one of the 40 Under 40 by BusinessWest. "I always admired people that received that title when I was younger," she said. "It was a pretty amazing feeling to receive the email from BusinessWest stating that I was one of the honorees. I hope this recognition will help us spread the message of The Art Cart and get our services to the people that need them."
Saba currently resides in Westfield, Massachusetts with her husband, Chad Moir and their son, Aayan. More information on their programming can be found at www.smilethroughart.com, www.letscombatmicrographia.com, and www.dopafit.com.