HOLMDEL, NJ: Eighteen-year-old Joel Barham, a talented artist and student at Holmdel High School, was chosen as the recipient of The Bungalow Foundation’s “Package of Hope” and will receive specialized art lessons to further enhance his artistic talents. The Bungalow Foundation is a nonprofit organization that works to reduce stress and promote healing through the Arts by providing Packages of Hope to those undergoing cancer treatments and other life-altering illnesses and disabilities. Joel Barham is visually impaired as a result of childhood cancer. 

“When I was a baby, I had Retinoblastoma and I lost an eye because of that,” said Joel. “My mom did a lot of praying. She was very broken down, but she prayed and God answers prayers.  I am here today, so thank, God.” 

Retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancer that develops quickly in the light-detecting tissue of the eye within the cells of the retina. When Joel was just one year old, his right eye had to be removed and radiation treatments followed. “They did radiation, which had side effects,” said Joel. “What they do is burn out the cells, so it made me have a closed socket and one of my eyes is deeper than the other.  I used to worry about how I looked, but I realized it’s not what happens on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that’s important.” 

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Joel says his passion for art has given him purpose and remains a way for him to express himself and inspire others. He first began drawing at the age of nine, when he noticed a friend sketching a picture.  Although others doubted that it was possible, Joel practiced until he could draw better than most sighted artists. “I know it amazes others and it really amazes me how someone with one eye could do so much detail and draw like someone who has two eyes,” said Joel. “I believe in never giving up, no matter what you have or what’s going on with you.  I don’t give up, no matter what.” 

The Bungalow Foundation was founded by Joseph and MaryAnn Anselmo to help children and adults like Joel, who are going through cancer treatments and other life-altering illnesses and disabilities.  The goal is to reduce adverse physiological and psychological health issues through the Arts.  MaryAnn Anselmo, a brain cancer survivor, says her love for music and art was a crucial part of her own recovery from the terrifying diagnosis of life threatening cancer. 

“When all was lost, I still had music and could paint,” said MaryAnn Anselmo. “During the darkest and most frightening time of my life, I could still find light in the beauty of the Arts. That was the inspiration for The Bungalow Foundation.  My husband and I want to help others find hope and healing that music, art and other forms of creative outlets can bring.” 

“The joy on Joel’s face when presented by the Bungalow Foundation with the art award has touched not just Joel, but everyone who knows him,” said Doreen Riegal, Holmdel High School Transition Coordinator.  “I am so thankful there is an organization like the Bungalow who offer individuals, who are working through challenging life events, these special moments of joy and expression through art.” 

In 2015, weakened by radiation treatments, the blood vessels in Joel’s remaining eye ruptured, causing total blindness. “I couldn’t see for almost two years,” said Joel. “That’s a side effect of radiation, the vessels get weaker, so they’re very fragile, and they can break. I just saw a red cloud and it was blurry too.” For those two years, Joel never lost heart and continued his schooling and art classes at Holmdel High School. “I was doing Braille all my life before I lost vision in my other eye, but I had to take my Braille seriously and I used ZoomText on the computer,” said Joel. “After two years, I had surgery. They removed a cataract and weren’t able to fix everything, but I can see better.  I’m thankful for whatever I get. You have to be thankful because it’s better than having nothing.” 

Joel’s teachers describe him as a great person and he is often called upon to deliver inspirational messages at school presentations because of his gift for finding something to be grateful for in any of life’s circumstances. “It’s not bad if you’re going through something,” said Joel. “We’re all human. We have to go through something eventually, so you have to stay positive. There’s no other way.  And your experiences can help others who are going through difficult times.” 

“Joel inspired many students with his creativity and ability to try and succeed with a variety of media,” said Denise King, Art Teacher.  “I always remember his joy in attending my art class in seventh and eighth grade.  His enthusiasm and interest made me look for new ways to teach in order to facilitate his desire to grow as an artist.”  

Although the odds of Joel growing up to become an artist seemed unlikely, he is beating those odds with determination, a positive outlook on life and an innate gift for expressing himself through art. “I like to be creative and it makes me feel great to put a smile on people’s faces,” said Joel. “I like drawing superheroes, angels and crosses with designs. I like to do still life, water colors and different designs. My art teachers like us to put a lot of detail in our drawings.  They have been always been supportive and taught me so much.” 

“Joel is one of the most positive students I have ever met,” said Alana Lazar, Holmdel High School Art Teacher.  “He is, and will always be, an exceptional person.  Challenged with multiple limitations,  Joel never gives up and is eager to express himself through his artwork.  His talent is amazing!  Whether he is creating a new superhero, still life, portrait, landscape, etc., his attention to detail brings life to the canvas.”

Joel applied for the The Bungalow Foundation Package of Hope and asked for art lessons to enhance his artistic skills. Packages of Hope are given to individuals going through cancer treatments or other life-altering illnesses and disabilities.  Applicants can request anything within the performing arts genre.  The Bungalow Foundation believes that engagement in music therapy, dance, opera, theater, visual arts and expressive writing is not only comforting, cheerful and supportive, but also promotes wellness and healing.  Yoga for Cancer (Y4C) has recently been added as a Package of Hope and is proving to safely and effectively manage both emotion and physical side effects. 

“I sent an application to The Bungalow Foundation saying how I wanted to learn how to express myself more through my artwork,” said Joel. “Then I sent them a few pictures and they loved my artwork. I was so happy!” 
“I was so impressed by Joel’s work and when I heard his story, I was amazed,” said Joseph Anselmo, Co-Founder of The Bungalow Foundation. “He is a very talented young man and we’re thrilled that we can help him further develop his artistic abilities.” 

The inspiration for the Bungalow Foundation, MaryAnn Anselmo, is an accomplished jazz singer, songwriter, artist, and co-author of the book, Through Fire and Rain.  Anselmo says her love of the Arts has been crucial for her own recovery.  She and her husband have made it their life’s mission to bring hope to those who are suffering, a mission Joel embraces as well, as he strives to uplift and encourage others who may be struggling. 

“Life is what you make it,” said Joel. “If you listen to what others have to say about how you can’t do this or you’re not going to make it, that’s how you’re life is going to be.  But if you push forward and follow your dream, trust me, you can make your dreams come true.” Joel says he plans to attend Brookdale Community College next year, and will continue to pursue his passion of making the world a more beautiful place with his gifts.  The Bungalow Foundation’s Package of Hope will provide art classes for Joel to build upon the foundation he received from his teachers in high school.

“As his teacher for the past several years, I was excited for Joel to be awarded the Bungalow Foundation award,” said Lazar.  “His love of art brings so much happiness to his life and to share with others who enjoy this passion will be a great experience. This new opportunity will enable him to progress further in his artwork.  I see Joel excelling in his new endeavor and can't wait to see and hear what his new accomplishments will be!  This is a truly exciting opportunity for a truly gifted artist!”“I am grateful to the Bungalow Foundation for helping me with my artwork,” added Joel. “I really appreciate everything they are doing to help me.” 

“The Bungalow Foundation helps survivors and sufferers live a better quality of life through donations,” said Joseph Anselmo.  “To offer support, please visit our website and donate.  We are extremely grateful for your help.”  To learn more about The Bungalow Foundation or to apply for a Package of Hope, please visit TheBungalow.org.  The artwork featured in this article are original works of art by Joel Barham.