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!