Abraham & Sophie

In 2007 Sophie Alpert had an epiphany. On a trip to South Africa, she observed micro-enterprise agencies helping women build economic opportunity. Using the model of empowering individuals to express their creativity to earn income, she was inspired to found Piece by Piece. Sophie intentionally selected the mosaic medium that uses low-cost and ecologically sustainable materials (recycled tile, glass, and china) repurposed into beautiful works of art that embody the metaphor of participants creating new life. Today, Piece by Piece provides on-site and online mosaic art workshops, community events, and a social enterprise that employs participants to work on the design and production of large-scale murals, public art, commissioned awards, and corporate gifts.

Piece by Piece provides the building blocks for greater emotional and financial stability, empowering the individual’s journey toward personal fulfillment, self-actualization, and living life to one’s full potential. With much support from the community, Sophie’s original inspiration has grown, enabling thousands of individuals from South LA and beyond to harness the power of Piece by Piece services and transform their lives - a profound manifestation of what is possible when basic human needs are met.

Decades ago, American psychologist Abraham Maslow presented a theory on human motivation known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. His theory was published in the Psychological Review in 1943 and has informed the field of psychology and health practitioners ever since. It also informs our thinking at Piece by Piece.

Maslow's theory identifies what all of us need – at one point or another in our lives. And while we now recognize that each individual’s unique childhood and life experiences influence our early and adult needs - and even suggest what our needs might be in the future – we witness Maslow’s theory play out at Piece by Piece every single day.

At the very basic levels of need [Maslow’s Level 1: Physiological Needs, Level 2: Safety Needs], we all need air, water, food, clothing, sleep, shelter, and then personal security, employment, resources, health, and property. These two tiers of need are fundamental to human survival. When these needs are unmet – particularly for significant lengths of time – the experience is one of deprivation and trauma. For some participants, when they first joined Piece by Piece, even their basic needs for food, shelter, and security were unmet. Piece by Piece not only provides a safe place it also helps address food insecurity through free lunches, provides a means of employment, and connects participants with resources for their other basic needs.

The work of Piece by Piece more deeply intersects with Maslow’s next three levels of need [Level 3: Love and Belonging, Level 4: Esteem, and Level 5: Self-actualization]. Informed by experience and increasing research on the healing effects of art, Piece by Piece first looks to create a safe and welcoming community of belonging. Through therapeutic art workshops, we uplift the creative spirit, foster socio-emotional well-being, and build confidence, self-esteem, and respect for others while providing participants with the tools to achieve their individual, creative, and financial goals and helping them fulfill their innate potential.

As we focus on adding more direct needs-based services and building a network of referrals to outside sources, we continue to consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as we help participants build pathways for their success. A few examples of new programs we are bringing to Piece by Piece are" benefits cliff" coaching using the Leap Fund platform, financial literacy provided by Bank of America, team coaching, peer mentorship, art therapy, and arts education training specifically requested by participants to deepen and broaden their skills.

Looking through Maslow’s lens sheds new light on the value of Piece by Piece programs, the immeasurable value of the growth and success each participant artist can achieve, and helps us identify needs and goals that differentiate surviving and thriving. When Sophie Alpert started a social enterprise to empower marginalized Angelenos to build economic opportunity – little did she imagine that alchemy inherent in her vision would provide transformational pathways for individuals to truly thrive!

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