We first met Alexis in 2003, when she was five years old. Her mother got clean after a decade of struggling with substance abuse and moved them into Stratford House, a supportive housing program for formerly homeless families in The Bronx.

At first, moving wasn’t easy. Alexis had to adjust to living in a new environment with rigid rules and numerous other families who were also coming out of their own histories of crisis. The year she arrived, Free Arts brought their arts mentoring programs to Stratford. The decade spent in our programs that followed would change the course of Alexis’ life.

A self-proclaimed bookworm, Alexis preferred to read and make art rather than hang out with her peers in her neighborhood, known for its high rates of gang activity. Because of this, Alexis was frequently the target of bullying.


Free Arts programs provided Alexis a safe space off of the street and access to explore a world far from Stratford. Alexis often talked to one of her mentors, Bernadette, about her future goals, of dreams that went beyond her life in the Bronx. Through these conversations, Alexis was able to grow a sense of pride, rather than shame, in her aspirations.


“Alexis is an example of what our impact is, of the ways we encourage kids to remain positive and to understand the possibilities that exist outside of their current circumstances.”

Alexis’s Mentor, 2007-2011

It was also Bernadette who taught her to simply step away from an art project when she felt frustrated, knowing that a fresh perspective was close behind. Alexis now relies on the patience and persistence she learned from this with every new and challenging project she gets, both in and outside of school. “Bernadette showed me if I just believe in myself, there’s nothing I can’t accomplish – whether it’s an art project or something much bigger.”


One of the first to participate in our new Teen Arts Program, Alexis is now an intern at the Free Arts office. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon she travels from the Bronx to Times Square, to support the programs that helped buoy her throughout her childhood.

“The teen program lets me still be a part of a community I’ve known for most of my life. And every time I walk into that office, I feel important.”


Importance is a feeling, we know, that travels a great distance.

From five to fifteen, Alexis is our impact. We have watched her grow from a shy girl who loved to use pink in all of her art projects, into a confident and imaginative 15 year-old. The maturity and poise that once was a target for bullies is now what proudly keeps her on the honor roll, with hopes of studying creative writing in college.

From her earliest memories of making art-projects with her mom, to now interning with the Free Arts program team, it is children like Alexis that demonstrate the transformative powers of art and how the support of a mentor grows the sense of possibility in a child’s life.

We can’t wait to see where she goes next, and know that one day in the future another little girl will be forever changed by her own mentor, Alexis.

This year, your gift will help twice as many kids receive the same supportive programming that Alexis has.

Now through December 31st our Board of Directors will match all donations up to $50,000.



See Alexis and her mother, Cynthia, talk about their experience with Free Arts NYC in 2008.