Granting a wish to never be forgotten

Naomi Cohain’s family brought her to this country from Israel after she was diagnosed with bone cancer in an effort to save her life. They stayed with cousins, the Mendelsohns, in New Jersey. Daniela Mendelsohn – 17 at the time – was not much older than her cousin who was 15 when she died. It was Naomi's spunk during her last days that made an impression.

“When they (the doctors) told her that there was nothing more that they could do for her she said, I need you to prove it to me,” said Daniela. So the doctors showed her cousin the results of many tests and how the cancer was spreading.

“In a way that I can’t even begin to fathom, she accepted her fate,” Daniela said.

Naomi then started saying goodbye. She said goodbye to the nurses and she thanked all of the doctors. Then Daniela came in to say goodbye.

“First she asked her doctor what she could donate. How a 15-year-old could think of that—I can’t imagine. The doctor said to her that because her body was so diseased, the only thing she could donate were the cornea of her eyes. 'I want to donate my cornea. I want someone else to see the beauty of this world through my eyes.'”

Naomi's last request was that she never be forgotten.

“That stayed with me. I went in on Friday to see her and she passed away on Saturday afternoon, after the first snowfall of the season. She had never seen snow before. That was one of her dreams. The nurse went to the window to get her a cup of snow. That afternoon she passed,” said Daniela.

Daniela then finished high school and went off to college. But she always kept Naomi in her heart and Naomi was the impetus behind ArtWorks.

With the help of friends and family Daniela set up a nonprofit organization for children with chronic and life threatening illnesses. Naomi loved art, music and making jewelry and Daniela saw how she used these things to cope. This became the core of her vision for ArtWorks.

“ArtWorks provides children and young adults suffering from chronic and life-threatening illnesses, and their siblings, access to creative and performing arts programs that encourage the use of the creative process as a vehicle for healing, communication, self-expression and personal development,” it states on the organization’s website.

With these goals in mind, ArtWorks distributes art supplies to hospital patients, brings art workshops taught by professional artists to children and puts together art galleries to display their creations.

There is one more way ArtWorks helps these children smile. An annual event called Express Yourself provides a live venue where children in the program, as well as their families, can sing, dance or recite poems. Any creative expression is fair game and it doesn't even have to be good, at least good in a way that Adam Levine or Cee Lo Green might judge.
Express Yourself is designed to be a supportive environment "where children share their stories of strength, courage, hope, loss and survival," states the ArtWorks website, ArtWorksfoundation.org/about.shtml.

That is where you will find Daniela on Nov. 17. This year’s show will be at the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, New Jersey.

"It’s not about good art. It’s about having the opportunity to express yourself," she said. "But I am always amazed by every piece of art that comes in because each one comes with its own story and its own process behind it."

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