GREENFIELD — As he watched Gabriel Flick drag a paintbrush across a canvas, covering the once all-white surface in splashes of red, white and blue, Jason Emery couldn’t help but smile.
Gabriel was one of about a dozen children who visited with Emery on Saturday at the Pennsy Trail Art Fair and Music Festival, as Emery, an Iraq War veteran, helped children paint pictures and write messages to be sent to military personnel overseas.
The project was one of a dozen activities for families at the 13th annual event, sponsored by Mental Health Partners of Hancock County.
This was Emery’s first time at the festival, and he said he plans to come back next year to continue his kid-friendly craft.
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The Greenfield native spent 15 months in Iraq during the height of the war and knows firsthand that kind gestures, such as the paintings, improve morale among soldiers.
The paintings children created at Saturday’s art festival will be on display in the Hancock County Courthouse before they’re mailed to troops.
“Anything you can do to smile in that hell, it’s a good thing,” Emery said of the letters and pictures he received from children during his tour. “It reminds you what you’re fighting for.”
The Pennsy Trail Art Fair and Music Festival brings together food, art, music and a bit of physical fitness for a fun and active event each year, said Kim Hall, president of Metal Health Partners and one of the event’s lead organizers.
Despite a cloudy morning, organizers said they were pleased with turnout.
The festival serves as a fundraiser for Mental Health Partners, a nonprofit referral organization that advocates for mental health and emotional wellness through local programs and services.
This year, 37 area artists were invited to display their work along the Pennsy Trail, between Riley and Pennsylvania streets in downtown Greenfield. More than 70 runners participated in this year’s 5K run, as well.
Hall was hoping the sun would make a brighter appearance at this year’s event because rain plagued the last two festivals. Instead, the sky was cloudy, and the temperature was cooler than it had been in past days.
She was disappointed by the weather but was glad to see families braving the windy afternoon to be outside on the trail.
Sandy Stephens of Greenfield rounded up her children and grandchildren to spend the day at the festival.
She’s attended the event in the past and thought it would be a good way to introduce Greenfield to some of her family members who recently moved to the city.
“And I promised them all dessert,” she said, with a laugh.
Kelly Leny was selling large metal figurines made by her husband, Dave Leny. The tall, bright-colored flowers looked even brighter against the gray sky. They sold a few of the handmade decorations.
“We’ve done really well today,” Kelly Leny said. “The wind has actually helped us prove the sturdiness of them.”
Other craft booths featured woodworking, photography and handmade children’s costumes. A line of food trucks assembled along the trail offered snacks, and local bands performed.
Alongside artists displaying and selling their work, representatives for nonprofits spread awareness about their organizations.
As children painted, Emery chatted with their parents about another cause close to his heart: the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Association, a Colorado-based treatment center for veterans.
He was raising money to send veterans to the treatment center, which he credits for saving his life.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury after a roadside bomb went off near his convoy in Iraq. He struggled to cope with the side effects of his injury when he returned home, he said.
There were no scars or visible wounds, but he experienced great emotional pain, he said. After a few run-ins with police — including a standoff in 2012 that ended with him getting arrested — Emery headed to the treatment center in Colorado for treatment.
Now, he feels healthy, he said, and he wants other veterans to be able to receive the help he got.
“I needed a new mission, and this is my mission,” he said.
Emery turns to art and music as a way to express himself. He paints, draws and writes music. He said he felt drawn to this year’s Pennsy Trail festival to display his work and interact with other artists.
“(Art) is a great way to get out everything you’re suppressing,” he said. “You’d be surprised what cool stuff comes out.”