Free Arts NYC case studies, as well as our ongoing program evaluations, show positive outcomes from the work that we do.
Participation in the arts enables children to improve their capacity for learning in other disciplines, including reading, language and math. In particular, at-risk students participating in after school arts programs show higher levels of self-esteem, self-confidence, overall school performance, and leadership skills.
*Names have been changed
JESSICA AND TYRELL
Jessica had to learn how to become a parent very quickly. She became pregnant with her first son, Devin, at the age of 15. Tyrell, her second son, followed a few years later, and the boys’ father did not help with childcare or support. At the time, Jessica was still living with her mother and step-father, and with their support she was able to finish high school and was about to begin college. But before her college classes began, her step-father died of AIDS and her mother, diagnosed as HIV positive, became unable to care for her grandchildren and decided to leave the city. Living alone as a single parent, Jessica was forced to drop out of school. Devin was diagnosed with autistic traits, and had to be taken to therapy and special classes. Jessica tried to do as much as she could for her children, but she had very little time for herself, or to think about her parenting skills.
A few years later, Jessica met her current fiancé, a man who was able to help her in raising the children. Together they had a baby daughter named Jasmine. With outside support, Jessica was able to devote more time to finding the best opportunities for her children, and that is how she found the PACT program. Jessica and Tyrell are now participating in their sixth PACT program cycle. As she said: “It’s something just for Tyrell. When Jasmine came, he was stuck in the middle. I noticed that he was feeling left out, so that’s another reason I came to the PACT program.” In the process, Jessica began to learn new parenting skills-something she was not able to focus on learning during the early years she spent trying to raise her children alone. She noted that PACT is different because: “In other things we do, I’m in charge-here, everybody is in charge. It took us five PACT programs to begin working together. In the last one we did a lot of working together and figured out different techniques that made it work better.” Jessica found that the program not only helped her to be less controlling and accept her children’s opinions, it also helped her to relax and express her own feelings: “It is also therapy-you focus on the art and don’t worry about everything else that is going on outside.”
Jessica has found that the PACT program helped to improve her life in many ways. She gets to be creative (something she noted she can’t often afford to spend time or money on), she meets other families in the community, and she learns how to be a better parent. Tyrell, who is now 9, loves the program too, and noted that it: “connects people with their art. You can see how your thoughts are similar and how they are different.” Once her daughter is old enough, Jessica is planning on bringing her to the program as well. She noted that: “It [PACT] exceeded what I thought it would be, and that’s why I kept coming back. And in the long run it helped us with the communication issue and cooperation.”
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Marisol first came to the United States 14 years ago. She and her husband arrived with no job or family waiting for them. Because of their financial circumstances, they had to leave their children behind in Mexico. Together, Marisol and her husband worked for two years to bring the children over. The family, including all seven children, now lives in East Harlem.
Struggling to maintain a large healthy and secure family, Marisol found out through a friend that she could receive help at an East Harlem community center called Little Sisters of the Assumption (LSA). At LSA, she decided to enroll in the PACT program.
Marisol came to PACT expecting a fun art program, but she found that it also helped her learn to be a better parent. Strained financial circumstances and the difficulties of immigration often left little time for focusing on family dynamics. With such a large number of children, Marisol had difficulty disciplining everyone and giving them the right amount of attention. In February, the facilitator described the family this way: “the Mom is loving but doesn’t show enough positive attitude towards her boys…[she] seems disengaged or relies of Emilio, the eldest to deal with brothers. She doesn’t discipline much and waits for Free Arts to step in.” By May, the facilitator noted a marked change. During the Rainforest Rainsticks project, “Marisol was much less passive with her family…everybody had their own creative vision, and they were willing to explore and ask for what they needed.” Through creating art projects together, the family learned to work as a team and share things. Marisol also learned by watching the way Free Arts volunteers worked with her children. She says she learned that her children have opinions and can share their ideas with her.
PACT not only helped Marisol’s family interactions, it also helped her to adjust to life in the United States. In the PACT group, she feels safe and comfortable enough to practice speaking English, and her language skills are improving as a result. She noted that she has learned the colors and many other vocabulary words related to the arts. She also learned to paint-something she never had the opportunity to do in Mexico. Her children have also learned from the program. Emilio, who is 11 years old, said that he learned how to draw because of PACT. The children have thrived under the personal attention of the volunteers, and the whole family has improved their communication.
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Florencia and her family came to live with her sister in the US a few years ago. They have gone back and forth between Mexico and the US several times due to financial problems. Though the family missed Mexico and felt isolated in the US, Florencia hoped that her children, Alexander (age 11) and William (age 7), would receive a better education in the United States.
About a year ago, the family started the PACT program. Florencia likes that they can do art together and work as a team. Before the program, she never worked together with her children on anything. Now she realizes that by doing things together, she can learn from her children as they learn from her.
PACT also gives the family the opportunity to meet other people and socialize. Before joining the group, Florencia felt very alone, and didn’t have any activities outside of the home. Now she feels that she is part of a group, and enjoys the support of her peers. Through her new friends, she learns about programs and services that her children can use. She also misses Mexico a little less because of the group. Her English has been improving because she feels comfortable practicing in the group. She was very shy before, but now she asks questions and participates. PACT helps the children to improve their English skills as well.
One of the family’s favorite projects is a jewelry box that they decorated together-they were excited to learn that they could make something useful and beautiful by themselves. William noted that they also like a painting they created of a house. It reminded all of them of the house they had in Mexico, and they kept the painting as a reminder of their other home and of their time together in the PACT program.
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Ten year old Melody lives with her family in East Harlem, a neighborhood riddled with high levels of poverty, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS. She attends her local public school-also a very dangerous place, and a hard environment to learn in. There are a number of safety issues at the school, including a high level of sexual abuse and violence. Melody was raised in a culture of politeness and respect. Unfortunately, this politeness has combined with the constant fear of violence at her school and in her neighborhood, and forced Melody to become a very quiet and withdrawn child.
After Melody’s brother had a positive experience with Free Arts NYC, her mother enrolled Melody in the Weekly Mentor program. Melody is thrilled with Free Arts, which has helped her to develop more self-confidence. Once a very shy girl, Melody now likes to express herself: “I like that we draw and write how we feel.” The facilitator of her group pointed out that when they made Identity Boxes, “Melody created a box with warm colors and flowers. She was very proud of her box and was happy to share her feelings…this project help her overcome her silence and be open to express ideas to the group.”
In a large school with overworked teachers, Melody never received any individual attention, especially since she was so quiet. Working with the volunteers, Melody now sees that there are adults who care about her success. She was rarely able to experience art in school, and she now enjoys creating so much that she takes out paper to draw rather than watch television. And her success in art has led to more success in school. She puts more effort into her homework, since she now believes that what she does matters, and that her efforts can result in something good.
And indeed, something good has come of her hard work-Melody was recently accepted into the East Harlem School. This independent middle school has an average class size of 15. Flor de Maria Eilets, the Community Life Program Director at Little Sisters of the Assumption (the organization through which Melody receives Free Arts services) noted that Melody gained the confidence she needed to apply because of the Free Arts program. Now she is on track to go to college (most students at the East Harlem School do), and she plans to become a veterinarian. Whatever career she chooses, Melody now has the skills and confidence to succeed.
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A DAY AT THE EUPHRASIAN HALL WEEKLY MENTOR PROGRAM, FEBRURARY 2006 - BY FREE ARTS NYC VOLUNTEER ELIZABETH TURNER
Euphrasian Hall is a diagnostic center for young women in crisis, ages 12-16. Teens stay at the residence for 6-12 weeks while staff asses their immediate and long term needs. The Free Arts NYC Weekly Mentor Program at Eurphrasian offers a creative release, a vital source of support, and a chance to build self esteem for young women at a critical time in their lives.
Tori has auburn hair, wavy and long. Her eyes are downcast, her body is always tense, as if she might need to defend herself, or to retreat, at any moment.
We said we were going to model composite animals out of clay.
“Pick an animal you like,” I said. Tori said she didn’t like any animals.
“OK, how about plants? Trees, flowers?”
“Well I live next to Forest Park, but I hate it there.”
“A puppy? A kitten?”
“I don’t know how to make those.” She shrugged and stared at the little packages of clay.
Amy always talks about her Mom. Last week, when we made treasure boxes, she picked a leopard skin print because she remembered a leopard print skirt her Mom wore when she was young. She chose green patterns for the rest of the box, because that was her Mom’s favorite color. She hoped to see her Mom that weekend; I don’t know if she did.
Amy decided to make a kitten, but then immediately said that she couldn’t; she didn’t know how. I drew a simple set of circles for her, added ears and a tail, to point out that a ‘composite’ kitten might be within her reach. She looked at the little clay packages on the table in front of her and shook her head.
One of the other girls asked about combining colors. We all learned together that it was possible to mix the red clay and the blue, making purple, or the blue clay and the yellow, making green. Slowly, Amy started to mix the clay. Tori watched, then tentatively started to manipulate the little lumps of color she had in front of her.
I was busy with other things for a few minutes. When I returned, Tori was completely involved in the design and creation of a purple penguin with a yellow beak and white breast! She was bent over her work, molding and positioning, shaping and forming a remarkable little animal. Thirty minutes later, she was still adding to her piece, fashioning a white snowman, then placing the penguin and the snowman together on a blue clay stand she made. She named her creation “Opposites Really Do Attract.”
Amy, meanwhile, had designed a remarkable cat-like lavender creature with white wings and dog ears! For the next half hour, she added strange and exotic touches to the fantastic kitten-extravagant whiskers, jewel eyes, jewels on the white wings, and a multi-shaded green and yellow base for her kitty to curl her tail and sit on. By the end of the evening, these two young ladies had made beautiful, complex, and completely original works of art.
Every week I watch twelve girls approach projects with no hope of success. Then every week they reach inside themselves and find an internal wellspring of creativity. And perhaps more importantly, every week they find absolute physical evidence that they can succeed, and for that hour, they know that they are talented and valued people. I feel privileged to know them and share their lives for a while.
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