By DENISE DICK
Jeff Sanders uses his wheelchair to express himself and help others at the same time.
Sanders created two large paintings Thursday at the Warren Family Mission, using his wheelchair as a paintbrush. His stepfather, Dave Wood of Cortland, either coats the wheels with acrylic paint and Sanders rolls over the canvas or Sanders takes the Jackson Pollock approach, flinging paint onto the canvas and then rolling through it.
He hopes to display the paintings somewhere the public may see them, then sell them and donate the money to the mission.
One he calls “Purple Majesty” bears the mottoes “Appeal to Heaven” and “Don’t Tread on Me.” The other he calls “America the Beautiful” for its red, white and blue hues.
Growing up, Sanders battled drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness, getting arrested in Florida, Alabama and Ohio. He was in and out of rehabilitation facilities and youth detention centers.
At 20, Sanders jumped out of a window in a hospital, fleeing from hospital security. He broke his neck and both arms, and woke up in a hospital unable to walk.
He spent several months in the hospital and moved in with his mother, Judy Wood.
“I was in diapers, and she quit her job to take care of me,” Sanders said.
He got clean and sober, found God, earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees, became a counselor, got a job and got off of Social Security disability.
He worked at the Ohio Department of Youth Services, one of the facilities where he was sentenced as a juvenile, for five years. But he lost his job due to a shoulder injury. He got divorced and then lost his house when the economy sank.
“It occurred to me that I was going to become homeless,” he said.
Instead of fighting it, Sanders sold his possessions and traveled around the country, visiting different missions. He said he wanted to see what the young people he planned to counsel were dealing with to better learn how to help them. He visited 40 missions before returning to Warren.
Sanders, 40, is living at the mission and working at Valley Counseling, trying to recover from his difficulties.
“I’m writing a book called ‘20/20’” he said.
The book relays his experiences for the first 20 years of his life, through much of which he battled addictions, and the last 20.
“It’s 20 years of walking and 20 years of wheeling,” he said.
Before his injury, Sanders appreciated art but didn’t produce any. He said his recreational activities were taken up with drugs, drinking and other unhealthy habits. He discovered a lot for art when he was looking for new outlets after getting clean.
While in the hospital, he saw a painting that another man had made with his wheelchair and decided it was something he wanted to try. He painted another piece in 2000, which hangs at Trumbull Memorial Hospital’s urgent-care center in Warren.
“It is an outlet for me, and it’s creative,” he said.
It also allows him to give back. He listed his mother and stepfather; his father and stepmother, Ken and Maggie Sanders; his brother, friends, hospital personnel, mission workers and counselors as people he wanted to thank.
“Without all of them, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” Sanders said.