The Alpha Workshops: Changing Lives Through Art
While infection rates continued to rise a decade into the HIV/AIDS epidemic—the number of AIDS-related fatalities began to decrease due to improved medication. HIV positive individuals were beginning to live longer, healthier lives. Noticing the uptick in the number of individuals living with HIV, Kenneth Wampler and a dedicated Board of Directors established The Alpha Workshops (Alpha) in 1995. As a non-profit decorative arts studio, the organization provides a supportive environment to train people living with HIV/AIDS or other disabilities and offer employment.
“Alpha was one of a new wave of HIV/AIDS organizations focused on life enhancement (rather than merely life support). We were founded and guided by the assumption that living with AIDS means not just surviving. Our mission is to have students grow, learn, and find new sources of pride and satisfaction in life,” said Kenneth Wampler, Executive Director at The Alpha Workshops.
With a strong belief in the healing properties of productive work and artistic expression, Alpha operates two partnered programs: a vocational school and a professional design studio. To date, The Alpha Workshops Studio School (AWSS) has enrolled over 500 students with a graduation rate of more than 80%. As most participants are reliant on public assistance or are unemployed, the school offers an opportunity to learn marketable creative techniques and work readiness. Equipped with the tools to achieve economic independence, more than a third of students gain full-time employment in local design studios.
“The studio school gave me an incredible foundation of skills. But more importantly, the course gave me a belief that I could do anything. I now have a real passion for art, and for using my talents. I am finally content with my life,” said a graduate of the program.
Many of the students are staffed at Alpha’s award-winning studio—which offers employment exclusively to graduates of the Studio School. Students produce custom wallpaper, tables, lamps and more, building on their skills and establishing job security. DIFFA has provided a stable source of funding for both the school and studios. DIFFA has extended support for research, development, and provided funding for the first year of pilot programming for LGBTQ youth.
“DIFFA’s funding can be seen throughout Alpha’s studios and school. With their help we can provide education, employment, and economic independence for men and women living with HIV/AIDS,” Wampler said.
The Alpha Workshops is just one of many grantees that DIFFA supports through its grant-making efforts. You can learn more about their work at www.alphaworkshops.org