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Espresso Palette owner Dustin Courtright (from left); artists, Jason Milne, 19, of Blue Island; Alejandro Garcia-Gonzalez, 19, of Robbins, Michael Lagunas, 19, of Alsip; and Tim Dougherty, Adult Transition Program Special Education Teacher for District 218 at a reception held on February 25 at Espresso Palette in Chicago Ridge. (Photos by Kelly White)

Espresso Palette owner Dustin Courtright (from left); artists, Jason Milne, 19, of Blue Island; Alejandro Garcia-Gonzalez, 19, of Robbins, Michael Lagunas, 19, of Alsip; and Tim Dougherty, Adult Transition Program Special Education Teacher for District 218 at a reception held on February 25 at Espresso Palette in Chicago Ridge. (Photos by Kelly White)

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Espresso Palette in Chicago Ridge hosts D218 art show

By Kelly White

As a young artist, Jason Milne, enjoys spending his free time building his talent.

“I grew up in a huge family, so getting some time to myself was difficult; but, whenever I did I

always loved to draw,” Milne, 19, of Blue Island, said.

Milne attends the Adult Transition Program at District 218. The program serves 18–22-year-old adults with disabilities from Eisenhower, Richards and Shepard, focusing on life and vocational skills that students continue to work on after high school.

“While they’re training me for a future job, I work on some of my paintings there,” Milne said.

Milne, who loves nature and brining scenery into his paintings was proud to showcase his work at Espresso Palette, 5730 W. 111th Street, Chicago Ridge, alongside two other artists also from the Adult Transition Program, Alejandro Garcia-Gonzalez and Michael Laguna.

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Jason Milne, 19, of Blue Island, who loves nature and bringing scenery into his paintings was proud to showcase his work at Espresso Palette, 5730 W. 111th St., Chicago Ridge.

“These three young artists are some of the kindest, hard-working, and talented young adults that I have ever had the pleasure of teaching,” Tim Dougherty, Adult Transition Program Special Education Teacher, said. “I am lucky enough to be able to do what I love for a living, and I have always tried to help the young adults that I teach to find something they love or something that they are interested in and go after it. These three love their artwork, and they really love to learn.”

The students’ work will be on display at Espresso Palette through March 11. An opening event was held on Friday, February 25 featuring live music from Eisenhower’s school band.

“Whether this turns out to be a full-time business for them, a fun side-job, or just a healthy outlet for them to express themselves, only time will tell; however, they are giving it everything they have, and having fun every step of the way,” Dougherty said.

Work for the projects was done both during school time and at home.

“I have absolutely loved seeing the looks on their faces when they show staff and peers their completed pieces of artwork,” Dougherty said. “A few days ago, Jason brought in a piece of artwork that he completed at home for this project. After unwrapping it in the front of the room to show his classmates, his fellow artists and every single person in that room was on their feet clapping and cheering for Jason. It was truly an amazing moment. I am so very proud of them and all of my students as everyone has helped to support and encourage them in their journey.”

Kerry McNicholas, Adult Transition Coordinator suggested reaching out to local coffee shop, Espresso Pallet, about displaying some of the students’ artwork.

Espresso Palette owners, Dustin and Erika Courtright, said he was happy to be a part of the project.

“We wanted to open a place that connects local artist with the community,” Dustin Courtright, of Oak Lawn, said.

Courtright did just that by opening up Espresso Palette in April of 2021, that not only serves coffee, tea, beer and wine, but also showcases local talent. The couple chose Chicago Ridge for his location because of the community feel and potential to grow. This is the first show held for District 218’s Adult Transition Program.

“This art show is a chance for three great artists to share their work with the community,” Courtright said. “I can appreciate the work these artists put in to make this showing happen and we are excited to have their work displayed. It’s a pleasure for use to host this event and we hope to inspire more local artists.”

Featured alongside Milne were nature artist, Alejandro Garcia-Gonzalez, 19, of Robbins and landscape artist, Michael Lagunas, 19, of Alsip.

“I realized I love making art when I was three years old,” Garcia-Gonzalez said. “I started by drawing my favorite characters from TV, movies, cartoons, and video games. Lately, I am inspired by painting nature scenes and landscapes on canvas. I love using my creativity and artistic skills to make people happy. The supportive people in my life have helped me to gain the confidence to build a business of sharing my artwork with the world.”

“As far as I can remember, art has always been a big piece of my life. You can say it is my biggest hobby,” Lagunas said. “My biggest supporters in life have helped me gain confidence in building a business out of my artwork.”

In The Adult Transition Program, educators focus on helping young adults like these develop the skills, knowledge needed to positively prosper within their communities while having a happy, healthy adulthood.

“This means we address academic needs, life-skills, positive recreation and leisure activities, social-emotional needs, and vocational skills,” Dougherty said. “Through this project, Alejandro, Jason, and Michael have built strong relationships, friendships with each other which has built up their self-esteem. They have gained confidence in their capabilities. This has done amazing things for their social-emotional statuses.”

Through this experience, the students have gained academic skills while working on budgeting and pricing activities related to their artwork.

“They are taking the artistic skills that they have obtained throughout their years in school and transferring those skills to explore a positive outlet for them to express themselves,” Dougherty said. “They are learning that this could become a great business for themselves, a possible side-business to help supplement their income one day, or simply be a healthy outlet for them to express themselves. Finally, they are learning ways to access their community in positive ways.”

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Adult Transition Program student, Alejandro Garcia-Gonzalez, 19, of Robbins, said his favorite piece of art he created for the art show at Espresso Palette in Chicago Ridge was a painting called, Coconut Grove.

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Michael Lagunas, 19, of Alsip, stands alongside his work during a reception for the D218 Adult Transition Program on Friday, February 25 at Espresso Palette in Chicago Ridge.

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