As many of you know, I don’t understand children. It’s not their fault; it’s the fault of my patience. Children are strange little aliens to me. I don’t know how to talk to them. I don’t understand their needs. (Similar to our new puppy, I’m coming to realize.) So when a couple of you heard I was signed up to volunteer with Free Arts Arizona, you were shocked. But not as shocked as me.
This was all Jake’s idea. He heard about Free Arts through work. They’re a nonprofit organization that brings the healing powers of the creative arts to abused, neglected, and homeless children in Maricopa County. Many of the children they serve have been removed from their families due to abuse or neglect and have been placed by the state into a group home. Some children live in residential treatment centers where they work to conquer painful issues of physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, and violence.
The theory behind Free Arts is to give children a way to identify their emotions and express them through a positive medium (like music, art, or—my favorite—the written word). According to their website, “The creative arts give children the tools they need to improve self-esteem and social skills. The creative arts give children a voice.”
I’m all about giving hope and inspiration to the next generation. I’ve observed the hopeless ignorance and idiocy of modern-day teens. No offense to them; I was a stupid teenager once, too, but it seems to be getting worse. I once overheard a fifteen-year-old say to her mother, “Why should I have to learn my country’s history? It’s just a bunch of dead guys.” Beyond that, kids don’t READ. And what is life without BOOKS?
I volunteered for my first Free Arts AZ “Free Arts Day” this past Saturday, and I was scared to death. I don’t know what I expected. Did I think the kids would be wielding switchblades? Did I think they would try to strangle me? I have no idea, but I was terrified on the drive to the Musical Instrument Museum. I should have been excited; the MIM is incredibly awesome, and I do plan to go back and spend more time there with Jake. When I arrived, though, all I could think was “Don’t mess this up. Don’t mess this up.”
Well, I didn’t mess it up. The kids were between the ages of 12 and 17 (known by my parents as “Sara’s bad years”). There was one girl who reminded me a lot of myself at her age: skinny, short, black hair, baggy clothes, silent for the whole day. Yet, she was the girl who later played a musical instrument with me and smiled, for just a second. The kids weren’t scary at all. They were just sort of … lost … and maybe a little angry. We all ignored each other at first while the docents led us around the museum. But once I got the guts to just talk to some of the young women, they immediately talked back and even laughed a little when I said something silly. Amazing.
So will I still be nervous before my next Free Arts AZ event? Yeah, probably. I still think I’m terrible with children (and puppies). But all it took was the smile from that one skinny goth girl to make the entire day worthwhile. That’s what Free Arts is all about—putting smiles on faces that haven’t had anything to smile about in years. We can do that for these kids. We can help them express themselves and find healthy, hopeful outlets for their negative energy. We can save them from drugs, gangs, and depression; all it takes is a couple hours of your time and the conquering of your (maybe just my) fear of children.
Get involved at http://www.freeartsaz.org/.