A ‘silent volcano’ of expression

Shonta Battle

Shonta Battle has lived in East County all her life, been in foster care with her grandmother since she was 14-years-old and diagnosed with multiple sclerosis since 19.

Living in the El Cajon area, Battle is a single mother of two children, including her youngest sister who she adopted in August, Battle has struggled with the side affects that come with the autoimmune disease, the medications and treatments that she has received for the past 14 years, and now is undergoing a prolonged and painful procedure to her mouth to correct the severe bone loss in her jaw.

In conjunction with Just in Time Foster Youth, was a fundraiser on Oct. 16 to help raise money for the $43,000 procedure. JIT kickstarted the fundraiser by donating $20,000 to her cause.

An artist, Battle’s fundraiser was held at the Quint Gallery in La Jolla., where her art was on display, and available for sale in helping her raise the remaining funds needed for her procedure. Her work was displayed in tandem with local artist Gail Roberts.

Battle is an alum of JIT and now works as its alumni engagement coordinator. Battle said many of the issues that come with foster care is trauma, dissociation with oneself, family, understanding who you are and what you bring to the world. Battle earned her master’s degree at SDSU in gerontology with a minor in social work, specializing in intergenerational care.

Battle said JIT has really helped her in her fundraising and that even though she fostered with her grandmother, JIT has been an important part of her life and self-discovery.

“JIT has been that family around me, shared my GoFundMe campaign, and brought the community in to help as well,” she said. “They shared it with our donors, our staff, and the (JIT) community, and showed how important community is.”

JIT Brand & Marketing Manager Amy Blum said it started with JIT’s Extraordinary Basic Needs grant and connected her with the dentist that is giving her a discounted service for the restoration. Blum said she began by personally sharing her GoFundMe campaign within her own network, and that she has a neighbor who owns a gallery in La Jolla, Mark Quint.

“He is a very community minded person, so when I found our more about her GoFundMe campaign, and the fact that she is an artist and is donating a piece of art to people who donate a $1,000 and above, I thought what the harm was in asking my neighbor to host this event,” she said.

Blum said it was a wonderful opportunity to bring the different communities together, all to benefit “this extraordinary young woman.”

Battle began with JIT in 2006 after graduating high school with its College Bound program, connecting her with a volunteer to take her shopping to furnish her dorm at SDSU. A few years later, she reconnected with JIT and became a full participant in all their programs including Financial Fitness, and Career Horizons.

“I got to be in a community where we shared similar experiences to me,” she said. “And also, being connected to staff and volunteers that continued to help us thrive and grow. I still have a great relationship with all my mentors. It has always been that community, family community.”

Battle is currently working on JITs alumni program that includes advocacy, outreach, working with the county with the changes that it needs to make so that there is less trauma in the removal or placement of a child, and creating that continued family connection and community for the alumni from 27-35 years old, creating that family network.

“We always need help and there is always new information needed to help us to continue to live and thrive in life,” she said.

As a child, Battle dived into performing arts in seventh grade in the dance world with ballet. She studied ballet for 12 years into her third year at SDSU, even dancing with the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet. With post high school life, college and work, Battle said the arts were important to her, but that she was unable to proceed to a higher level of expertise, mostly due to the cost.

“After I graduated from college, of course I had to live the big girl life,” she said. “I tried to take a few dance classes, but there is not time when you are working full time, establishing yourself, finding your own niche, you kind of lose who you wanted to be or where you wanted to go.”

So, Battle turned to art for her creative expression, understanding how color can change atmosphere, buying Cricut, that helps design shirts, banners and other creative things and her art began to evolve and ventured into tumbler making, creating custom cups. She turned her tumblers into a painting canvas, learning the different techniques with acrylics, epoxies, creating more realistic scenes.

“From there I moved to alcohol inks which are complementary to watercolors, having more control of colors and how it moved on the page was always inspiring to me,” she said.

Since then, she said she dived into paint pouring, constantly trying to improve her art. She said it helped with her constant isolation she felt, especially at the beginning of the pandemic.

“As a person who has dealt with MS, I know and understand how important it is to maintain that safety in my environment,” she said. “When COVID hit, for me, it was hyper isolation because I already have an immune system that does not work. It was just me and the kids. I dealt with a lot of anxiety of what is next or what could be, and not having any control. But what we can do is find our happiness where we can.”

In May, Battle said she started working with color theory and how colors “match our souls” and why people connect with certain colors. She said that is when her real learning of paint pouring began. She said her time as a foster youth, the isolation of MS, and the many things in her life created a “silent volcano” of art expression.

But the years of dealing with MS, side affects of medications, and the stress of living with the autoimmune disease, last May her teeth began to chip to the point that eating, and drinking became extremely painful. “One of the few things that brought me comfort was painting,” she said.

Battle said last year in August was the toughest for her as she caught COVID and could not paint and confined to her bed for six weeks. She said after recovery, she immediately began painting to help her deal with how that experience made her feel.

“To me, it has been one of the most uncontrolled aspects that I could ever have expected to happen,” she said. “Seeing now, from last May, I can see what time, energy, and giving your all into your passion looks like.”

People can donate to Shonta’s Confident Smile GoFundMe campaign at https://bit.ly/3atg08o.