A Breath of Happiness...

Each week for eight weeks Free Arts Program Leader Roshaunda works with two different groups of children for 90 minutes. Her goal is to help these children and teens re-discover hope and rebuild self-esteem and resiliency. Most of them live in foster care or are homeless and on their own. Nearly all deal with extreme poverty daily.

“I love when I come in the room and everyone shouts ‘Hey, Miss Ro!’ The kids are so excited to find out what we’re going to do and they want to help set things up” said Roshaunda recently.

“Right now we’re focused on empowerment, so we are finding our inner superheroes. I love this project because the kids learn that we can all be superheroes and help others.”

“At the beginning I ask them about their day and we talk about different things. I let them lead the conversation so they know they are respected and that I care about them and what they have to say.”

Roshaunda said that at the beginning of the eight week program, a lot of children are intimidated, shy or don’t feel they can do much. Many struggle with anger and distrust of adults. It takes time to see positive change, but working with art helps them identify and cope with their feelings and daily life challenges.

One example is a teen girl who didn’t want to sit with anybody at the beginning of the eight-week program, and she was aggressively making fun of others and picking on people. But after a few weeks, she became more calm because she saw that she was in a safe environment where she could be herself. She realized that she didn’t have to pick on anyone to make herself feel better. She could just feel good all by herself.

Every child in the program comes with their own set of unique challenges. Roshaunda continuously adapts her mentoring and coaching to fit each group each child’s needs. One of the biggest challenges is to get children that don’t want to be there and who don’t trust adults, to trust the program leaders and mentors. Roshaunda works hard to gain children’s trust over time help them feel safe, so that they can participate in the art projects and reap the benefits.

I know that most of them haven’t had even one positive adult role model. And that can create a lot of pressure on me. I know I am a good role model, but it can be hard to figure out how to approach children who are new to Free Arts, since every child has a different set of very tough challenges in their life. Some kids need an upbeat and uplifting mentor, others need somebody that is more quiet and listens to them. Once I’ve spent time with them, I can figure it out pretty quickly. But it’s always hard to know what they need before getting in the room for the first time.
— Roshaunda

 

Once Roshaunda gets the children to trust her and build a relationship with her, her work with Free Arts immediately becomes rewarding. She remembers one particular day...

“It was the last day of the program, and children were practicing gratitude by making thank you cards. One of the girls came up to me and gave me a thank you card. The card had a bunch of words that were spelled wrong, but it was so beautiful and heartfelt! I was so touched to have made a difference.”

 

Based on what Roshaunda has observed and what children have told her, she knows that Free Arts has a positive effect on their lives.

“I drive 2 hours each way to go to one of the programs, and it is worth it every time. I’ll be stuck in traffic and feeling down, but as soon as I get there and all the kids start talking to me, I remember why I do this. I know I have to be there for them, because they will be waiting for me, and I want them to know I care about them.”

 

To learn more about Free Arts programs, click here!

How Art Impacts Children

 

Free Arts’s mission is to restore hope, resiliency and self-esteem in children in Los Angeles through art projects. Free Arts pairs children with adult mentors who serve as a positive role model with whom the child has a beneficial relationship.

 

Why is art helpful?

Art provides comfort and hope to children and teenagers facing diverse challenges. “The biggest advantage is that art can express things that are not expressible verbally,” Dr. Sarah Deaver, President of the American Art Therapy Association, explained in an interview with The Huffington Post. “That’s a huge advantage for people who don’t have the language to talk about what’s inside of them.”

Studies show that arts on children such as:

  • better academic results

  • greater likelihood of college enrollment

  • increased self-esteem and resiliency

  • improved emotional intelligence

  • more civic engagement

 

 

What are the direct impacts of creating art?
 

Stress Relief

Most artistic activities take place in a safe and relaxing environment. By entering this safe space, children can stop worrying about their everyday life and familial troubles. Children know they won’t be judged for what their artistic piece will be. There is no “wrong art.”

Self-Expression

Art opens the door to self-reflection and self-expression. Learning to communicate through painting, drawing, writing, dancing or other arts offers a constructive method for children to share their identities with the outside world.

Self-Confidence

When children learn new skills and engage in social activities, they become more self-confident. Learning social skills like cooperation and conflict resolution in a fun and relaxed environment will help them interact appropriately with others – a skill valuable in all aspects of life, from home  to the workplace.

Creativity

Artistic programs can provide an outlet for creativity and problem-solving. Artistic activities encourage children’s natural curiosity and interests. Arts provide effective, engaging methods of  emotional and physical stimulation, which encourages the overall creative thinking process.

 

Free Arts staff and volunteer mentors use art techniques to create a bond with abused, neglected and homeless children. Through artistic activities, Free Arts helps restore hope, resiliency, and self-esteem in children in Los Angeles ages 5-18.

For more information about Free Arts, click here!

 


Courthouse Program… A Way to Brighten Children’s Day

“I always loved doing arts and crafts with kids. I am not proficient enough to be an artist, but I do think that it’s a very cathartic process. Kids discover things about themselves when they’re doing art,” Kerrin said.

Kerrin has been volunteering with Free Arts since October 2016. She is a professional stay-at-home mother and loves spending time with kids. When both of her daughters graduated high school, she was looking for new volunteer experiences.

“I stumbled across Free Arts because I had been on jury duty a couple of years ago. I saw kids in the courthouse, and I thought that it must be horrible to have to come and sit in a courthouse while their parents are dealing with their case. So I tried to find an organization that would help kids in that situation, and that’s how I found Free Arts,” Kerrin said.

She felt like the courthouse program was the best fit for her.  She liked the idea of meeting a lot of different children at every session.

 

A day at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court

Every Monday morning, Kerrin goes to the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court and meets with Karol Hernandez, Free Arts Programs Manager, and other volunteer mentors to provide art activities for children waiting to testify in dependency court.

The courthouse is a very stressful environment for children who have to sit around in the waiting rooms for their case to be called. Those children are bounced around between their family, their lawyers, and judges.

Free Arts provides children with a safe and creative space in the courthouse and engages children in art activities that promote resiliency, self-esteem and hope.  Free Arts volunteer mentors bring positivity and smiles to this stressful place.

“Everyday, a child does something that I find clever or really thoughtful, and they get to be just kids at the table. When they are doing art they can chat about stuff, and it really keeps their mind off of the environment they are in, and they get to explore new things,” Kerrin said.

“I never instruct the children about what the project is going to be, because they always end up having better ideas than I do. There is not a right or wrong at the table, we are just doing art,” she explained.

Free Arts volunteer mentors set up tables in the courthouse waiting room, where children can create and express themselves. Children get to come and go from the tables as they are waiting for a case to be heard by a judge.

Some examples of art activities include creating a dream catcher, drawing your favorite animal, painting your emotions, building your dream house, drawing yourself as a superhero, and creating your magic wand.  While children are creating art, volunteer mentors ask questions that bring out the deeper meaning of the activities.  Such as, “What are some real life super powers that you have, which have saved the day?”

“One of the challenges in the courthouse program is that you don’t have time to get to know the children very well, so it can be hard to see what they are gravitating towards. But with art, everything is easier. Art is a great way for kids to unlock, to see what they like,” Kerrin said.

 

Kerrin’s favorite story from the courthouse

Kerrin, volunteer mentor at the Courthouse Program.

Kerrin, volunteer mentor at the Courthouse Program.

Kerrin has many impactful moments that she remembers.  The one that has really stuck with her is this one:

“We were doing a project based on little paper people and children can add attributes to them. There were probably 4 children at the table, and when it was time to clean up, they wanted to put on a show with their people, and it was amazing. We made tickets and they went around to give out the tickets to people in the waiting room for their little show. They lined chairs up and crouched down behind the chairs, so that only their little people were showing, and they made them move and talk.

These children didn’t know each other beforehand, and by just sitting at the table and working on their paper people and chatting, they came together.

The best part for me was that this was an experience that I had almost nothing to do with. It all came from the kids. When you let children sit down and explore, you never know what they will come up with, and it’s almost always constructive.”

 

Volunteer mentors like Kerrin bring Free Arts mission to life.  Every week day volunteer mentors are on three floors of the courthouse, serving over 20,000 children a year.  If you’d like to become a volunteer mentor and serve at Free Arts courthouse program, please click here

That’s what Free Arts is about… getting people involved, and having a good time and sharing experiences.
— Kerrin

The journey to volunteering

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Working with volunteer mentors brings something new and exciting every day.
— Karol Hernandez, Program Manager at Free Arts.

Volunteer mentors are essential to Free Arts’ mission.  Last year, more than 200 volunteer mentors donated 14,000 hours to help provide therapeutic art programs to children and families.   Free Arts volunteer mentors are often students or everyday people looking to serve in their community.  Free Arts partners with many colleges and universities throughout Los Angeles, such as the Cal State branches and Los Angeles City College.

 

Free Arts offers two types of programs:

  • The Courthouse Program

  • The Mentorship Programs

“Everybody can be a volunteer,” Karol says. The only requirements are passing a background check and attending trainings. Free Arts training process helps volunteer mentors learn to interact with children and create activities for them in a safe environment.

“Our trainings include content on biases, diversity and stereotypes so that our volunteer mentors can effectively serve children from diverse backgrounds.  We also cover mandated reporting, and other information required to mentor children who have experienced abuse, neglect or homelessness. We want to make sure that our volunteers are prepared to be non-judgmental as well as supportive to any participants in our programs, whether they are children, parents or guardians,” Karol says.

New volunteers during a training session.

New volunteers during a training session.

For the mentorship program there is an additional training designed to guide volunteer mentors through classroom management and how to interact with children in an engaging and welcoming way.

“We don’t send our volunteer mentors out unprepared. They first go to trainings, then shadow a volunteer to see how it is firsthand. The courthouse is a particularly challenging environment and it can be intimidating at first, so we make sure our volunteer mentors feel comfortable at all times,” Karol says.

Free Arts believes every volunteer mentor has a unique gift and strength they can share to inspire hope in the lives of children.

 

Here are some guidelines to being a good volunteer mentor at Free Arts:

●      Be involved and show you care!

●      Be flexible and adapt to every age group.

●      Ask questions to break the ice.

●      Remind everyone, “there is no wrong way to do art!”

●      Bring warm and positive energy to the activities.

“Some children can be shy or scared, so we are looking for volunteer mentors that can put effort into those shy children and bring them out of their box. When I see a shy child, I sit next to them and ask simple questions about their interests, like a TV show or activities that they like,” Karol says.

Finding common ground with children is essential to creating a comfortable and creative environment.  The goal is to show children that it is possible to build a healthy relationship with adults, and that there are people who care about them and will listen to their needs and interests.

Karol has worked with many children, but one story stands out to her…

“Once I had this little boy that was very shy and nervous.   He was not talking to anyone and was hesitant to draw with us.  I sat next to him and started asking him questions about what he liked. He said he loved Pokémon!  As we kept talking, he became more and more excited and started drawing a Pokémon themed dream catcher. He also showed me all of his Pokémon cards, and that really made him come out of his box.  At the end, he proudly showed everyone the Pokémon dream catcher he created.  That is what I love about Free Arts - seeing children come out of their comfort zone, find their voice, and create art they are proud of.”

To become a volunteer mentor, go to http://www.freearts.org/volunteer/