Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kids Helping Kids: The First ITLT Workshop

This blog started as a resource for people to access creative acts of kindness from home. Several weeks ago, however, one of my favorite super moms approached me about hosting a workshop for the kids in her community. All of this happened pretty quickly. We set a date and selected a theme: Kids Helping Kids. After tossing around several ideas, doing a lot of research, and playing phone tag with a few organizations, I announced our project. I was unsure exactly how to approach this topic at first because it's a sensitive issue, and I wanted to breach this carefully with the kids participating. Here's the email we sent out to the parents:

Agency: Haven Hills
What you need to know:
Haven Hills is a registered 501 (c) (3) organization in Canoga Park providing safety and support to victims of domestic violence, while working to break the cycle of abuse. Over the past 36 years, Haven Hills has served over 600,000 women and children, helping them rebuild their lives and free themselves from the horrors of domestic violence.

  • One in four women experience violence by their spouse or boyfriend.
  • One in three adolescent girls is a victim of abuse from dating a partner.
  • Three women a day are killed by their batterers in this country.  Most of these are murdered within two weeks of leaving the abusive situation. This is why it is vital that there are confidential shelters for women and their children to seek safety.
Haven Hills provides a 30 Crisis Shelter and an 18 Month Transitional Shelter for women and children transitioning out of abusive situations but most leave with only the clothes they are wearing. It is a unique facility because it offers and supports children's programs and community education. At the Haven Hills Shelter School the teacher uses art to let the students express themselves and their emotions. One project, “The Monster in Me,” is from A Window Between Worlds - a non-profit organization dedicated to using art to help end domestic violence. Using art in this way helps children identify feelings that they have been unable to talk about before.

What your kids need to know:
It's important to be a positive influence in your community! We know there are kids that weren't raised with some of the things we take for granted everyday. While it's nice to be grateful for what we have, it's also great to give what we can to those who need a little extra help. There's a group of kids that we're going to dedicate this first workshop to because they are having to start over. They're living in a new place, they're going to be making new friends, and they don't really have anything that they had before. We are going to spend an afternoon creating some really special items for them. Personalized gifts from you to them, even though you don't know who they are! It's going to mean a lot to them to know that you care so much that you use your Crafty powers for Good! We can't change their situation, but these little things will make a big difference, and it starts with you!
Project Details:
We'll be providing the actual materials used to create special tote bags for the kids at the shelter, as well as project instruction and encouragement. Please make sure kids are dressed in craft-friendly clothes, as we can't wait to see what they are inspired to create! We are hoping that you'll contribute art supplies to fill the bags with craft-kits of their own. There are 54 children between both shelters of varying ages, so we'd love an array of items!
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Haven Hills is an organization that's very close to my heart, and you'll hear why in upcoming posts. If you're interested in hosting an event like this in your community, here's how this one happened:

I guess my little sister isn't so little anymore, but here we are prepping for the workshop!

  1. Find out exactly what your local shelter needs. In our case, the kids at Haven Hills were essentially plucked from their normal lives with little or none of the possessions. When I spoke with their Facilities Manager, he told me that the kids love to do art projects are are always in need of supplies. He also said they don't really have much to call their own. We decided to have kids in our workshop decorate tote bags and fill them with age appropriate art supplies.
  2. Find out about the kids who'll be receiving your donations. While a lot of information is confidential for obvious security reasons, Haven Hills did provide me the age/gender breakdown of the children in residence (ranging from a newborn to 17yrs). I created "age tags" for each child, since we didn't know their names. Yellow tags were for girls, green were for boys. 
  3. Invite families and request donations. Between the two of us, we invited families she knew and families I had taught in the past. Not knowing what kind of turn out to expect, I think we sent Evites to a little over a hundred people. Summer is tricky because a lot of people were on vacation. This was our first time doing this, but next time I could probably be more specific with donation requests. 
  4. Purchase supplies. Deborah, our super mom who hosted this event, generously purchased all the tote bags, stickers, bracelet making supplies, and I went shopping for stencils, sharpies, and markers. Undoubtedly, my favorite purchase was a sticker maker from Michael's that I used to create our own it's the little things name tags for kids in our workshop. 
  5. Get organized and get help. Luckily, my sister returned to town and volunteered to help me with workshop. We really found that, because the kids only knew so much information, they had a lot of questions, "What do I write in the card? Who is this for?" Next time, I'd definitely want to have an adult at each activity section fielding these concerns.
  6. Donations. For as many people attended the workshop bearing donations, half as many dropped off donations ahead of time. I was amazed with how many donations we received from parents who's kids were in camp and couldn't come, but wanted to contribute in some way. We must've collected THREE laundry baskets FULL of art supplies. I was absolutely blown away.

The Workshop
  1. When kids entered the house, we ushered them over to the coffee table. Here, I introduced myself, had them fill out a name tag, and asked them if they knew what we were going to be doing. Often times, they didn't know so I explained the process and why.
  2. Next, I had them pick an "age tag." They could choose to design a bag for a girl or boy and what age. (Having pre-cut and written tags ahead a time made this process a lot easier.) Many kids chose ages close to their own; it seemed they felt a sense of familiarity with the child who would receive the bag.
  3. Then, they walked over to our colorful assortment of tote-bags (that Deborah purchased online) and picked a color bag.
  4. I tied the age tag onto the bag strap, filled their bag with an insert so the ink wouldn't bleed through, and set them up at the tote table.
  5. Here they had sharpies and dot-markers, alphabet and animal stencils, and the freedom to let their own imaginations run wild.
  6. Once they completed the front (and back) of their bags, they took a seat at our card-making table to write a brief note to the child who would receive their bag. We provided them with markers, stickers, glue, glitter, etc. and a little guidance on how to approach writing a card to a stranger. We suggested key phrases like, "I made this bag for you! I hope this makes you smile. Enjoy these art supplies. I like ____, I hope you do too!"
  7. We also set up a bracelet-making table. This was optional and the girls really seemed to enjoy it.
  8. Finally, each kid got to fill their tote bag with art supplies. We tried to help them choose age-appropriate items, and attempted to stack them on the stairs... but let's be real. There. Were. Tote. Bags. Everywhere. It was a glorious chaos. 

The next day (barely able to walk after that five hr workshop), thankfully, a friend volunteered to come over and help me sort through all the bags. First, we divided them by age. Across two rooms, we had piles from age 2 to age 17. Then we went through every single bag double-checking that each had age-appropriate items and enough items. For example, we needed to take the markers, paints, and scissors out of the younger aged bags and we loaded the teenage bags with post-it notes, permanent markers, glitter pens, and duct tape. Every bag had at least five items; ie. crayons, markers, colored pencils, stickers, and a coloring book PLUS glue and pencils (of which we had a LOT).

There were some awesome donations that were better suited for a communal area, so items like an origami kit, glitter paper set, and finger paints were put in a different bag. I had to double check that each child at Haven Hills would receive a bag so we went through the list, by age and gender, checking them off. Each child was accounted for, plus we had a few extra bags and art supplies for any new kids that might join them soon. The next day, I called the Facilities Manager to schedule a drop off and they couldn't believe the effort behind getting these bags to this point.