Last Sunday , I sat in a planning meeting with four very intelligent, creative women .We brainstormed ideas for our Rotation Classroom that will happen here at UUCW in May.
Have you ever experienced the pure power of creativity, gathered into one room, excited by promise?
It’s the type of thing that gives me goosebumps. One idea sparks, then it ignites another, and another. Soon we were apologizing for interrupting each other with yet another wonderful epiphany!
Creativity; the arts and the sciences; they massage our brains and spin our neurons. Creativity allows the brain to exercise , making possibilities more reachable . It energizes and heals.
When I recently volunteered at the IHN Family Shelter, I witnessed something similar under a a highly different circumstance.
To put this statement in perspective, I ask you to picture seven homeless families, with a total of 21 people living together in one house.
Yes, things can get challenging. The IHN residence is about as beautiful as homeless accommodations can get. Still, when you put multiple families together with varying levels of life crisis, there is stress within those walls. I have said to people volunteering at the shelter, that it is not our job to police or to judge, but to be a non-anxious presence among families , supporting them as they try to make their way out of their crisis.
We have so many volunteers who lovingly do just that. We are known in the shelter as the church community who is open-hearted and accepting, and the ones who will take action for these families. Still, it can be frustrating for some to be in the midst of a hectic evening at the shelter, with children who perhaps are not behaving as you think they should be or parents not following advice found in parenting books.
I find it difficult to see these families running around the “hamster wheel”, waiting for their chance to break free from shelter living to permanent housing; waiting to get better employment or needed services for themselves and their children.
Have you ever been in a room concentrated with stress, negativity or hopelessness? How much do you get done in that sort of environment? For me, it is absolutely zero. I do not find the shelter experience at IHN to be that full of despair, but I know it could feel that way at times to a family living in that situation.
So, to say that I saw something magical happening one evening at IHN, is an understatement .
Three Youth Group teens were hosting with me and we innocently broke out the boxes of beading supplies in the living room after dinner. First the little girls came over to make simple bracelets. Then, more begrudgingly, the teen boys ambled over. Then came the moms, then the dads. Then: the energy in that space morphed. It wasn’t planned. Families began working together, crafting calm.
They sorted through the letter beads. Parents made bracelets with their child’s name on them. A mother and son made a “best friends” necklace, each with the matching half of a heart charm .. A dad picked out his families initials, a “cool” city teen sat with his mom and picked out all the red beads for a bold necklace.
Calm, creativity, connection. These families were using other parts of their brains for that hour…such a short period of time, many were disappointed when we had to clean up for bedtime. Maybe that time helped spark something more than jewelry design. Maybe ideas bubbled up : solutions for stress, job ideas, a realization that there is a new thing that they’re really good at or that they love.
I spoke to the director of IHN the very next day and proposed a monthly “arts” night for the families of IHN. When the director said “YES!” , I put out one Facebook post and one group email asking for help.
The “Happy Arts” project has now been born. Thank you to the many people, artists, musicians, crafters, and assistants who quickly ( practically overnight!) volunteered their skill and time. We currently have a year’s worth of art nights scheduled and visions to possibly work with other families and teens in crisis situations.
Thanks to all who have said yes to making this a reality. We will transform a space in the shelter to sit and create- to spark those brain neurons- to dream big and to heal. Even if only for a hour, I feel the sparks of creativity will ignite something more.
I especially want to thank Jane Houghton, who was the first artist to throw her hat in the ring, and who also designed the awesome logo for the project! If you are interested in getting involved in any way: as an artist, contributor for supplies, grant writer, anything!! Please contact me! It’s fun when the creative juices get flowing!!