Wellness with Ashley Witherspoon of Hand Made Dreams

The Museum of Durham History’s new exhibit, Stranger Times, uses the idea of the “Upside-Down” from the Emmy-nominated Netflix series Stranger Things as an analogy for the experience of life and coming of age during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. As the show centers on teens dealing with unusual happenings in their town, the museum highlights the reflections of Durham teen experiences with COVID-19 and the associated stay-at-home order. Over the coming months, we are featuring guest blog posts from community collaborators who helped make this exhibit possible. Below is the current installment from Ashley Witherspoon, founder and CEO of Hand Made Dreams. The MoDH will be working with Hand Made Dreams on a series of free public programs for area families, beginning January 2024.

My journey into wellness began at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University as a criminal justice major.  I obtained a Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina-Columbia and worked as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with individuals who endured various mental health challenges within local, state, and federal programming.  In 2019, I launched Hand Made Dreams, a mental health platform dedicated to bringing mental health awareness to everyday spaces. I had the opportunity to serve as a mental health expert for WRAL-TV, an NBC – affiliated television station, offer therapeutic strategies to families during the Covid-19 Public Health Crisis, and contributed to various local and national publication platforms, including American Alliance of Museums and the national and digital media publication Youth Today.

The latest initiative, the Art Wellness Exchange, leverages exhibitions to build mental health awareness in a proactive and creative way. I am excited to bring this experience to the Museum of Durham History through The Gateway to Healing | Reflections of the Upside-Down series.  This experience will explore various mental wellness topics highlighted throughout the popular “Stranger Things” television show. Veneca, who derives from the Upside Down, dwells in the underbelly of the small-town Hawkins, discreetly causing chaos and confusion amongst individuals in the community. As a result, the youth are forced to recognize the threat and face their fears, bringing the “invisible” to the light, as they search for solutions.  Utilizing the Stranger Times exhibition as inspiration, Hand Made Dreams curated a series of 90-minute experiences for youth, educators, and parents/guardians focusing on self-care, enhancing conflict resolution skills, and establishing holistic wellness expectations.

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