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