Mar 1, 2024
Author: Trenton Soup Kitchen

Enriching Lives Through the Arts at TASK

Writing, music and visual arts programs provide a vital outlet for self-expression

For many years, the Creative Arts Program at TASK has been a connection point for people, enriching lives through visual, written and performing arts. The weekly arts sessions, a cornerstone of many lives, serve as a vital outlet for self-expression.

Derrick Branch, a longtime participant in the arts program, stumbled upon TASK at a pivotal moment in his life. “I found my way to TASK when I was about 40 years old. I was at a low point, sitting on my porch, and I saw a lot of people walking the same direction, talking, laughing and carrying bags — all smiling,” he recalled.

Intrigued, Branch followed the trail of happiness until he reached TASK. This serendipitous encounter marked the beginning of his journey into the visual arts program.

Derrick Branch paints during an arts workshop at TASK.


Introduced initially by longtime TASK volunteer Susan Darley, the nascent visual arts program became an important part of Branch’s life. Beyond visual arts, Branch embraced the creative writing and music programs, transforming from a novice bass player to a proficient musician. Today, Branch is recognized throughout Trenton for his poetry, music, drawing and painting.

Jaime Parker, TASK’s Senior Director of Radical Hospitality, played a pivotal role in expanding the soup kitchen’s Creative Arts Program. Drawn to the transformative power of creative communities, Parker is an advocate for equitable access to the arts.

“Our socio-economic system is not kind to artists,” said Parker. “The space to express yourself through art is an important part of life and well-being for many people.”

Parker and Arts Program Specialist Frank Lettieri, Jr., design each program to provide a safe and supportive outlet for artistic self-expression. Lettieri and Parker also invite professional musicians, artists and writers to work with participants, fostering an environment where artists of all levels can grow.

On Mondays, the halls of TASK are filled with music as people gather to jam with Lettieri, an accomplished drummer. The sessions are open to musicians of all levels. The introduction of music production sessions opened a gateway for musicians to record their original compositions. The TASK Recording Studio has now become an indispensable part of the music program.

Lettieri believes playing music is a safe way to express the powerful emotions that many musicians in this program feel. “It allows them to be in the moment, in a different, better place for a while,” he explained.

Playing music as part of a group builds confidence and interpersonal skills in people who often feel unseen and unheard by society. It can also lead to paid work. Several TASK music program participants have become working musicians.

Last year, as part of Isles Downtown Busking Program, a few TASK music program participants performed in downtown Trenton. Other TASK musicians have joined local bands and gained experience playing at venues throughout Central New Jersey, Philadelphia and the surrounding region.

On Tuesdays, TASK partners with the Trenton Community A-TEAM (TCAT) to provide a studio and supplies for visual artists.

Nour Salih, posing next to a special selection of his paintings and drawings, is one of many talented TASK artists whose work has been displayed at local galleries throughout the area.


TCAT, a nonprofit organization, collaborates with TASK to offer help and find exhibition opportunities for artists who wish to sell their work. Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell recently featured a show curated by TCAT that included artwork from regular participants in TASK’s visual art sessions.

Thursdays mark the gathering of The Share Project, TASK’s creative writing group. A space for discussing ideas and sharing work, this group exemplifies the power of storytelling.

The Share Project helps writers compile their original works and print their books. In 2023, TASK printed copies of The KJ Chronicles by Keshawn Johnson (who goes by the pen name KJ the Great), Poems of My Own Vol.2 by Deborah Kisela and The Writings of Betty M. Barr by Betty Barr.

Johnson joined The Share Project to help work through some of the issues he was dealing with after his father’s death. He is currently working on a second book.

“The main goal of my writing is to be an inspiration to the reader,” Johnson explained. “I’ve been through it. Maybe they can see themselves in me and know that it can get better.”

“What these creative communities mean to artists cannot be quantified or qualified,” said Parker. “It is powerful to see how it expands people in so many ways.”



Tag: Creative Arts - Patron Services - Success Stories - TASK - Trenton Area Soup Kitchen - Date Posted: Mar 1, 2024 - Author: Trenton Soup Kitchen