Every Tuesday night, St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Seattle opens its doors and invites people living with mental illness and homelessness to come in and create. In the unique art space they can paint, knit, play music or find their own creative pursuits.
The Karen Korn Project was founded by Pastor Kae Eaton and Patricia Swain, in honor of Swain’s daughter Karen. Karen died from suicide in November of 2014, after struggling with mental illness and homelessness herself.
Swain says her daughter was always a creative person, who used art to cope with her demons. After graduating from college in California, Karen worked in the entertainment industry on many popular movies and television shows. Eventually she ended up in Portland where her mental health began to decline.
Depression dogged Karen most of her adult life, and she was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Her struggles would carry on into her forties, until one day, around Thanksgiving, Pat Swain opened the door to her bedroom and found that Karen had taken her own life.
“There’s no way to explain what that was like,” Swain said. “People talk about having a broken heart. I honestly felt like my heart had been ripped out of me.”
A few months after her death, the state granted Karen the disability funds she had been hoping for. Because Korn didn’t have a husband or children, the money went to Swain who used it to start and fund the Karen Korn Project.
Swain says seeing other people being helped and impacted by something Karen Korn loved has allowed her to salvage some meaning from her loss.