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Young man finds success on canvas

Alan Ammon Jr. displays two of his paintings on sale at Reach for the Stars in Salem. Among those who helped make that happen are the five people pictured behind him: from the left, Lori Jewel of the Chamber of Commerce, Shirley Bowald of Reach 4 More, Kitty Kromer of Reach for the Stars, Alan’s mother, Teresa Ammon, and Paul Anthony of Reach 4 More. (Submitted photo)

SALEM – The “paint happy trees” philosophy of the late Bob Ross – along with a Salem store with a special mission and the Reach 4 More program — have helped a young Calcutta man find success on canvas in spite of his autism.

Ross could have been thinking of someone like Alan Ammon Jr. when he said, “I think each of us, sometime in his life, has wanted to paint a picture.”

“I like to beat the brush,” said a smiling Alan, 26, echoing a Ross quote which urged an energetic approach to cleaning the paint out of brushes.

Alan has had to beat the brushes often lately because he sold half a dozen paintings in recent weeks and has that many more on display at Reach for the Stars, a nonprofit gift shop, gallery, and training program at 440 E. State St.

“I can’t draw even a stick figure. I don’t know where he gets his talent,” said his mother, Teresa. “People ask Alan, ‘Will you paint this for me?'”

Two years ago he was fascinated by a Bob Ross painting demonstration on youtube. He got started painting cartoon, Japanese anime and superhero characters. Pokemon and Spiderman were early subjects. Lately he has been taking Bob Ross virtual classes and has branched out to landscapes.

He works mostly in acrylics, less often in oils, which are expensive and take longer to dry, his mom explained. Most of his artwork has been given to friends or to help someone.

“He painted (the Star Wars character) Chewbacca for a friend with a disability and is working on a snowy owl,” she said. “He did a sunflower for a girl who was depressed.”

“This guy is so special to us. We were so excited to bring him in and put his bio on our Facebook page,” said Kitty Kromer, supervisor at Reach for the Stars. “Within one or two weeks we were selling his paintings.”

Alan lives in a basement apartment at their Calcutta, Ohio, residence. Most recently he was employed for two years at Wendy’s of Calcutta, doing mostly cleaning and sweeping. When Wendy’s was recognized last year by the Reach 4 More program for hiring Alan, his mother showed some of his paintings to Paul Anthony, a business engagement specialist with Reach 4 More.

He told Shirley Bowald, employment development manager for Reach 4 More, that “Alan’s paintings might be a good fit for the Reach for the Stars store. Shirley reached out to Kitty and Kitty met with Alan and his mom.”

Business owners and managers interested in learning the advantages of hiring those with disabilities can contact Reach 4 More at its Lisbon office through the main phone line at the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities, 330-870-4272.

Reach for the Stars was launched five years ago by the Columbiana County Educational Service Center with a grant from the Ohio Department of Education. It is both a gift shop and a training program.

“The store is managed by students with disabilities aged 18 to 21,” Kromer said. “It is a continuation of school. They learn job and life skills here.”

Reach for the Stars is part of a larger job training program, ESC Work Solutions, which assists adults with disabilities in successfully obtaining employment in the community. This CCESC program is certified by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities for job development, training, and retention services as a provider through Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.

A wide variety of gifts are on display for sale at Reach for the Stars, including arts, crafts, jewelry, books, clothing, cards, pottery, soap and more, all created by more than 90 Made in Ohio vendors. Some vendors have a disability, many do not. Vendors receive 75 percent of the selling price of their wares.

Alan’s mother is a corrections officer at the Louis Tobin Attention Center. His dad, Alan Sr., captains a Lake Erie charter boat. His sister Makayla, 24, is in nursing school.

“He has his own kitchen and bath, and a 75-inch TV,” his mom said. “All he doesn’t do is drive. We are really proud of him. He is an amazing young man.”

As Bob Ross said, “You can do anything you want to do. This is your world.”

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