What looks like a simple cardboard box filled with art supplies can help needy students tap into suppressed feelings, express emotions and begin to process them, share secrets and fears in a safe environment, and enjoy the freedom to be creative.
Newport resident Jennifer Mathews loves watching what can happen when children in Watts are given their own art boxes, along with the guidance and freedom to create.
“They get so excited about the HEart HEALS Art Box, which mostly just contains basic school supplies that they don’t have,” she said.
Jennifer said each box is a large white shoe box with a lid. Inside are scissors, drawing paper, colored construction paper, glue sticks, markers, colored pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, water colors, acrylic paint, and small canvases.
Box recipients decorate and personalize their boxes, and enjoy creating on paper or canvas.
“When I see the kids open their box, it’s just the best,” Jennifer said. “They get so excited. The program has grown. Three years ago I delivered 35 to Watts for the Christmas party. This year I took 50, and another 150 to other children’s programs. I just follow God’s lead.”
For the last four years, Jennifer has volunteered twice a year with friends who for many years have served every Thursday at the Bible club at Powerhouse Church in Watts.
Powerhouse is a church plant of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and World Impact. Jennifer is the Founder and Facilitator for HEart HEALS, which provides therapeutic art workshops to help with personal growth, self-discovery or relief from stress, fear, trauma or grief. At Powerhouse, Jennifer runs a therapeutic art group with middle school age children. Some of the students she began with are now mentors for the younger ones.
Every Christmas, Jennifer hands out art boxes for each student to keep. Students know what to do with the boxes; they reinforce what Jennifer has done over time with them through therapeutic art.
“During our time together, I use abstract painting to help them process difficulties and experiences in their lives, such as poverty, witnessing death and drugs, and things kids shouldn’t be exposed to,” Jennifer said. “Many have lost siblings and other family members. I give them exercises that help them link feelings to colors and shapes and as they paint, they express themselves with a different language. They tend to numb their feelings, but we are trying to get them to access them and process them in a healthy way – especially their sadness, anger and grief.”
“Because the paintings are abstract, kids don’t know what each other’s paintings are about. They know they don’t have to explain their paintings, but many end up wanting to talk about them,” she continued. “I’ve heard from some mentors that they have never heard them express themselves like they do through art in the years they’ve worked together. We’re trying to help them get in tune with themselves, to recognize feelings, express them, and feel relief. We talk about the good and bad in life, about how they feel about God. Our time together helps them acknowledge the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of their lives.”
Jennifer is taking 25 art boxes to the Union Rescue Mission soon. Last year some men she worked with shared the boxes with their children when they visited.
As the art box program has grown, so has the number of those who want to help.
“A lot of people played a role; some donated money and others helped put the boxes together,” she said. “God has done so many great things, providing resources, opening doors. We all just did our part.”
For further information, visit heart-heals.com.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected]