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Military members use the art of glass blowing as a form of therapy

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TACOMA, Wash. -- Recovering from active military duty can be a challenge for some women and men who serve the country. A program in Tacoma helps military members rehabilitate their lives through art.

Hot Shop Heroes began in 2013 and has since become popular among active military members and veterans. It’s an eight-week course that teaches glassblowing led by experienced instructors. Participants meet once a week at a hot shop located at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.

Jeremy Stringer is an active-duty member of the Army and has served for 25 years. He has been participating in Hot Shop Heroes for one year. Stringer said he always knew he had a creative side but didn’t realize just how important glass blowing would be in his therapy.

“Very skeptical because I had been through a number of different things that didn’t work, didn’t produce results. But after my first class being down here on the hot shop floor, I knew this was exactly what I need,” said Stringer. “Because of the energy and the recharging that I felt driving home that [first]night, I knew this is what’s going to fix what’s going on.”

Stringer joins several other active military members and veterans in the program recovering from their time in service.

“The traumatic brain injury that I’m suffering from—my left brain is very forefront. It’s very analytical. Let’s just say the creative side doesn’t get a lot of work out unless I dedicate a lot of brainpower to it,” said Stringer.

The Army soldier has been deployed several times, including five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, all the teamwork and intense heat required in glassblowing is familiar to him.

“I leave here recharged and full of energy and ready to go at it for another week,” said Stringer. “Art is one of those things that transcends left, right, up, down. When you find something that strikes you, that hits you in your core it doesn’t matter where you are, what your job is, what you do on a daily basis.”

“Oftentimes, people don’t think of being in the military as being someone who’s innovative or creative. But we’re constantly solving problems. So, I think the whole art as therapy experience and working with glass and all that it requires really comes together,” said Mary Mary Carstensen, Hot Shop Heroes coordinator.

Carstensen served in the Army for 26 years and said the program is not only therapeutic – it helps military members transition into civilian life.

“It’s also a socialization opportunity. It’s creating confidence, it’s tapping into our creativity,” said Carstensen.

“Coming up here, meeting new people, finding and establishing and working through the kinks and building a new team is huge,” said Stringer. “You don’t really know what you need until you find it. It’s an amazing restorative process.”

Stringer said Hot Shop Heroes has been an integral part of his life. He said it’s helped him so much he plans to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts once he retires from the Army.

Carstensen said there is a waiting list for participants to join the program because it is so popular. She’s encouraging those who are interested in learning more about Hot Shop Heroes to contact her at mcarstensen@museumofglass.org.

Museum of Glass, JBLM, Puget Sound VA Healthcare System and Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs are partners of Hot Hop Heroes.

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