Saramati Narasimhan was Thought Notebook Journal issue five’s Artist To Watch. We loved her organization Art For A Cause so much that we decided to make it issue five’s social change organization chosen as a part of our Thoughtful Project. Her nonprofit organization organizes public events, commissions art, and participates in community outreach programs benefiting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Saramati donates 100% of money made and donated to this research hospital through her graffiti, henna, tattoo designs, sketches, cartoons, and more. Saramati is one that has turned something positive out of a negative. After battling a personal condition, it was heavy on her heart to give back in some way and provide to the greater good of society. She still wonders what would have happened if she never picked up her pencil to sketch again in that hospital. It was an unbelievable chain of events that led to Art For A Cause being born. We are privileged to tell her story and support her organization with 10% of all sales of Thought Notebook Journal issue five.
You had an epiphany one day that gave you inspiration to start Art For A Cause. What was it?
Art For A Cause was born from a hospital bed. Over five years ago, my entire world flipped upside down. I went from being a very physically active full-time student to being bed ridden within the span of a month. I was diagnosed with a chronic pain disorder, and I went from biking 20 miles a day to having someone roll me over in bed. To pass the time in the hospital and work through what I was going through, I began to sketch. To my surprise, the other patients started asking to buy the art I was creating, and that is when I had my epiphany. I could never ask cancer patients to pay for what was bringing me so much comfort, and I knew I wanted to help other young people like me who had found themselves in unexpected health situations. This is how Art For A Cause was born–drawing from my bed. Art For A Cause has given me the small opportunity to repay all the affection I was shown by my family, friends, and random people who showed so much compassion to me. Despite the tremendous difficulty and struggle of my condition, these circumstances have led me to where I am truly meant to be. It has transformed me into the person I am today. Starting Art For A Cause really has changed my life for the better.
Why St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital? Is there an affiliation or likeness towards this hospital? Do you have children of your own?
Some of my favorite interactions have been with former patients of the hospital. During my public events, I am always humbled when former patients and family members of survivors have come to thank me. While doing henna for them, they have shared amazing stories of survival and appreciation for the second chance they were given by St. Jude's Children's hospital. Hearing their stories and the stories of their loved ones have been some of the most memorable moments of this entire process.
Have you had the ability to see or meet any of the children you have helped due to the proceeds from Art For A Cause?
One large factor of why I felt so strongly about supporting St. Jude’s Children’s hospital was because I have met children who were patients there during my visits to the hospital. They showed more maturity, charisma, and bravery than I have seen in adults, including myself. They were really my inspiration and still are today.
What is the “Cause” in the name Art For A Cause?
The name of this organization has always been a source of pride for me. I left the ‘Cause’ open ended for a reason, because I feel that there are many causes in this organization. The first and primary is supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Every penny earned through art has been sent to this hospital, and the over-arching aim of Art For A Cause is to raise funds for those patients. The secondary cause is spreading happiness in the general public through art. I love doing public events because I know my participants, at least for a moment, are given a chance to enjoy the art they are exposed to, and relax. Not only is the art financially helping the patients at the hospital, it also brings joy into the lives of people who purchase the art or attend the events. I was shown so much kindness while I was battling my condition that it felt wrong not giving back in some way. Therefore, the most personal ‘Cause’ is the impact Art For A Cause has had on me personally. The organization has given me a chance to make something beautiful out of my pain, and every piece of artwork I make has helped me fight my disease and give me hope.
What kind of events do you organize through Art For A Cause?
When I rejoined the University of Miami after leaving due to my illness, Art For A Cause started growing in ways that I could not imagine. There was a variety of public events that helped spread the word about the organization and a large number of collaborators who have heard about what I was doing and contacted me. In one of the henna events I organized, volunteers and I set up a booth and provided people with unique henna based on their requests. I also have collaborated with other local charity organizations to help promote art to children, raise awareness for other causes, and just help the community in any way we can. My favorite event was also the largest one I organized in collaboration with many other University of Miami organizations and local artists. It was an evening of art for sale, dance, and live music performances. More people than I ever could have imagine attended. Seeing everyone come together to help diseased children was the most moving moment of my time running Art For A Cause. Working with other artists, whether they are visual artists, dancers, or musicians, is an amazing experience. They donate their time and inspiration, and I am forever grateful for all of their help. The combined man power fosters real creativity and allows us reach more people than I could have ever imagined on my own.
You create various types of artwork, from graffiti to cartoons. Which one is your favorite?
My favorite type of artwork is henna. My Mom taught me how to do henna and it has always held a special place with me for that reason. When I am drawing a henna tattoo on someone, I have the ability to talk with them and learn about the person supporting Art For A Cause through their purchase. There is something very personal about being able to make a piece of art on the person who requested it. One of my favorite moments doing henna was when I met a cancer survivor from St. Jude Children’s Hospital who heard about what I was doing. Seeing a survivor from that hospital and being able to make a piece for her personally was truly inspirational.
Art has transformed your life in many ways. What has been the biggest transformation yet?
My diagnosis has been the largest point of transformation for me. I had sketched before I had gotten sick, but I never had explored it further. Art had been in my peripheries before I developed my chronic pain condition, but now I cannot imagine my life without it. It provides me with a means to cope with my condition, to express what I am feeling, and to give back to the community. I do not honestly think I would have started Art For A Cause if I had not gone through what I did; I cannot fathom living without art now. I now attend Vanderbilt University, and bringing Art for A Cause to this new city has been a wonderful experience. I look forward to seeing how Art for A Cause will grow in future years."
What continues to fuel your spirit as you fight a chronic pain disorder and run a truly inspiration social change organization?
Helping others through art morphed a terrible moment in my life into something beautiful. I am inspired by all the other patients out there who walk amongst us and are fighting so bravely. I am inspired by the amazing potential of people to perform acts of kindness for strangers, and I am inspired by my family and friends who have made me who I am today. I am forever grateful to them, because I know I owe them everything. Additionally, all of the events Art For A Cause runs, or participates in, are made possible by the generosity of people looking to do a good deed. I am so thankful and inspired by all the volunteers and participants who have truly made Art For A Cause what it is today.
Support Art For A Cause by purchasing Thought Notebook Journal Issue 5. 10% of all sales gets donated to the organization.
Addiction—a difficult word to digest—as it encapsulates just about anything we are incapable of controlling the urges and motivations for. The root of the word addiction in Latin connotes it with the act of surrendering to something we cannot control. Like a car stuck in mud requiring assistance to get out, this concept of surrender indicates a sense of causality requiring assistance. The Recovering With Pride substance use recovery program of the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago serves members of the LGBTQ community who may experience negative consequences resulting from substance use. The program’s mission is to provide high quality, culturally sensitive, outpatient treatment for substance abuse through multiple levels of outpatient care. Their program addresses not only alcohol use, but also prescription medications, marijuana, GHB, ecstasy, heroin, ketamine, methamphetamine, and cocaine. I had the privilege to speak with Stacy Agosto, Program Manager of Recovering With Pride, to learn more about this organization and the work associated with helping people who use substances discover freedom and willpower.
How long has the program been in existence?
We have been providing substance abuse care at Howard Brown for more than 21 years. We have received grants to treat specific drugs of choice in the LGBTQ community, but we assist people recovering from most substances. Over the years we have added staff and higher levels of care which offer us an opportunity to assist more people. The program began with one or two staff, now we have five people on staff dedicated substance abuse treatment.
Where is the treatment delivered?
All of the recovery related services we provide take place in our Chicago clinic located on Sheridan Road. In the future as we continue to expand, we may begin adding services in our other locations, such as the Rogers Park neighborhood.
Recovering With Pride provides several different behavioral health programming options. Which do you find people request or require the most?
Most people start with individual one-on-one therapy and add our group therapy options focused on emotional regulation, depression and anxiety, and specific drugs of choice. These groups are focused on a specific difficulty everyone shares and are facilitated by a licensed therapist. These groups are powerful as they are a sharing of stories that align with other people. This process is very effective. For example, someone comes in with concerns regarding their drinking or crystal meth use, they may attend the harm reduction group where they work out their substance use by discussing with others the cost and benefits of the use, why they are doing it, consideration for using differently, or stopping completely. It’s an open space to talk with others of similar struggles or questions.
How is success measured in the programming?
We are currently looking into how we get better at doing this. Customer satisfaction surveys are our current procedure, asking clients how they engaged with their therapist, how we are meeting their needs, is the program affordable, do they find it purposeful. We have started conducting after-care calls, reaching back out to clients once therapy ends to reassess where people are. Sometimes during these call backs we hear about positive paths they are on and other times people really need to come back into treatment. We find this an effective way to reengage if necessary. Overall, through the surveys and after-care calls, clients say they learn a lot about addiction and coping and feedback tends to be very positive.
What does culturally–sensitive mean in the program’s mission statement?
As a collective agency, everyone is passionate about the work we do and the LBGTQ community we serve. We have a big commitment to cultural competency and identify with the community as many of the workers live and breathe the work and understand the issues this specific community faces. For example, there is significant social stigma around substance abuse and within this community its effects and use is different.
What do you find is the biggest hurdle for those who are battling substance abuse?
There are many hurdles and it’s a long road–clients have made positive drastic changes but it can take a while all depending on factors such as age of onset, family history, unemployment or something else in their social situation that complicates things. People can be discouraged with progress and it can be slow and incremental. Relapse is psychologically and at times physically difficult and it can be hard not to get discouraged.
Is there a personal story of triumph that stemmed from the program you can share?
We have had clients that were deep into their drug use that had corresponding health consequences that were monumental, such as psychosis, being terrorized at night with nightmares, hearing voices and other distressing mental illness that made them feel as though they had lost their minds. Some lost their housing and employment. Many of these clients have been successful in turning their lives around for the best, resolving their psychosis, and some have started their own businesses or gone back to school. Often times we hear back from them on their own telling us about their recovery stories and the amazing impact we had on their lives. It’s inspirational to see them succeed in making positive changes.
How is the program funded? Does health insurance cover any of the expenses that clients may incur?
Recovering With Pride is funded in many different ways and we work hard to make our services accessible to the low income or the underinsured. The Chicago Department of Public Health helps us to provide free-of-charge counseling for members of the LGBTQ community struggling with substance abuse or dependence who have limited financial resources and are uninsured or underinsured. For some clients we provide a sliding scale, or small out of pocket fee up front when insurance is involved. Due to all the changes in insurance recently, our issues with insurance are being a part of the proper network and deductibles that people cannot afford. Additionally we apply for grants such as the Ryan White grant that covers services for people with HIV.
What is the biggest challenge that Recovering With Pride has in its administration?
It can be very difficult to watch addiction take its toll on people, which is why we take care of ourselves as clinicians in order to be able to do this work.
What do you consider to be true strength?
I think that from the perspective of the client, true strength is the ability to face yourself honestly. That means taking a hard look at yourself and being honest with what’s happened and take responsibility for it. Picking up the phone or walking through the door for help even when you cannot verbalize your thoughts as your life is falling apart–takes immense strength for anyone.
Consider donating to Recovering With Pride by visiting www.howardbrown.org or purchasing a copy of 30 Days Dry - 10% of sales go to support this organization.
Environmental Works is a nonprofit Community Design Center that empowers the US State of Washington’s most vulnerable communities to create the spaces they need to succeed. Their commitment is to honor the dignity of all people, regardless of income, through their architectural and planning services to those underserved by the profession. Their services include site analysis, programming, evaluation of needs, budgeting, and more, which lead to quality design and high performing places to live, gather, and work. Their motto is People and Places Matter, by making buildings that make people feel good.
The organization was inspired by the power-to-the-people activism of the Vietnam War-era. Over forty years later, Environmental Works continues to practice architecture in the public interest and prides itself on doing the most they can to help society in establishing social equity and environmental stewardship.
Environmental Works has achieved national recognition for their work and are regarded as leaders in the field of sustainable architecture for low-income communities. We had the opportunity to connect with Executive Director Roger Tucker to learn more about this amazing organization whose core value is that everyone deserves resilient communities with decent, affordable housing and vibrant, enriching places to work and play.
What is the founding story for Environmental Works?
Environmental Works was founded on Earth Day in 1970 as a cooperative effort of 64 University of Washington students and others to “make the earth and the Northwest livable, through environment preservation and community development.” Initially located in the University of Washington Architecture School Annex Building, they relocated to the surplussed City of Seattle Fire Station No. 7 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. During the height of the Vietnam War and Urban Renewal, Environmental Works staff were known as "reasonable radicals" because they used their counterculture ideas and positive energy to make lasting change in low income communities. In the early days, the volunteers who worked hardest to bring Fire Station 7 (dubbed Earthstation 7 by the group) back to life and set Environmental Works on a path of sustainability were Dale Miller, Larry Goetz, Jerry Arbes, and a newcomer, non architect Brad Collins. Working with the Seattle King County Economic Opportunity Board, the four secured two one-year grants for the 1971-72 and 1972-73 fiscal years with HUD and HEW respectively. The primary purposes of the grants were to develop environmental awareness in low-income communities and environmental education curriculum for the Seattle Public School District. This early work set the tone for the organization and helped develop the core values that the organization still lives by.
What type of underserved organizations and communities has Environmental Works helped?
Environmental Works’ clients include nonprofit organizations that have limited financial resources and time to consider facilities improvements. We help them to determine facilities improvements so they can better serve their clients and help them leverage funds to make it happen. We also work with nonprofit housing providers, encouraging them to include potential residents, who wouldn't usually have access to architectural services or a voice in the planning process, in the design of their new homes. The organizations we work with typically serve people who make 30%-50% of median income.
We continue to work with organizations that we have partnered with throughout our 45-year history, and we are always engaging with new organizations. In the past decade our work has included:
· More than 40 new affordable housing projects, creating 1,200 homes for more than 2,500 individuals
· More than 40 childcare centers for low- and moderate-income children
· Dozens of public facilities including homeless shelters, food banks, clinics, and community center
How can proper design change people’s lives?
Here are some examples:
Noel House Women's Emergency Shelter - Formerly located in a converted basement parking garage, the new Noel House shelter in downtown Seattle provides a dignified space for chronically homeless women to get back on their feet. Indeed, 78% of clients now find permanent housing solutions within a year, up from just 43% in the old space.
El Centro de la Raza Community Center –Over more than 20 years, EW has worked with El Centro de la Raza to improve their historic former school building (now a community resource center). We provided a master plan of improvements such as energy, plumbing, and seismic systems, and then helping to implement the work over time with our services. El Centro de la Raza’s staff have been able to remain focused on their organization’s core values of inclusion, outreach, and community solidarity–not having to learn how to become facilities experts for an aging structure.
Unity Village Low Income Housing – Inclusive, hands on design workshops with residents led to a development that was welcomed by the neighborhood. Residents feel ownership of the place and continue to respect and maintain the homes that they helped design. With input from the workshops, we created flexible design features that allow people from 12 different cultures to adapt their apartments easily for their own cultural preferences. The design included outdoor recreation space, parking, bus lines, and easy access to a local park.
How can proper design make people feel good?
I would say it is twofold - providing a connection with the natural world and providing opportunities for community gathering. Many of our projects have central open spaces that provide a place for social activities in a secure natural setting. As an example, at One Community Commons, a low-income family housing project in West Seattle, all of the apartments are accessed through a central, south-facing courtyard that is planted with edible plants such as figs and strawberries. It provides a safe place for kids to play while parents do laundry, visit with neighbors or use the common meeting room. The project is located at a busy intersection and the courtyard, located above the street and surrounded on three sides by apartments, is a quiet and secure respite.
What is considered a high performing place?
To us a high performing place is both environmentally and socially resilient. Socially high performing fosters community and provides opportunities for social interaction and support. Environmentally high performing has minimal impact on the earth and reduces energy and operating costs for owners/residents.
What is sustainable design?
Sustainable design is a term that has been diluted by overuse. In its best meaning it refers to design that is resilient and relevant, having minimum long term and short term impact on our planet - a design that is a healthy and invigorating place to live and/or work and ideally has a symbiotic relationship with our ecosystem. Achievable? Yes! Easy? No!
What is a current project of Environmental Works?
We are happy to be working with a private nonprofit resource center for families who are at risk of becoming homeless. We worked together from the start to raise donations for design services and are currently working with the organization and contractor on donations of construction services, materials, and labor. The key project elements were defined through a hands on community design process in which all members of the organization were able to express their vision for the center with drawings, images, and words.
What is Environmental Works’ biggest issue in being able to meet their vision?
In the past grants have been available that allowed us to provide no cost design and planning services to local social service agencies. We are working to restore this funding so we can continue to provide low cost or no cost design services to nonprofit social service agencies. We would love to be able to provide free services for all of the communities and organizations that we serve.
If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be?
The current income inequality and over-demand for resources is leading to an imbalance in our world. A simpler, more equitable culture would lead to a happier and healthier society.
Consider donating to Environmental Works by visiting eworks.org or purchasing a copy of Thought Notebook Journal Issue 4 - 10% of sales go to support this organization.
Often we take for granted the warm when the cold season is around, or a good pair of shoes when a lot of walking is needed. More than we should, we also take for granted our health and access to clean water, employment, and books. All over the world families are living in poverty stricken conditions typically called slums. According to World Health Organization, almost 900 million people live in slums around the world, with 90% of them in cities of developing countries. These slums are characterized by multiple forms of deprivation, and are often overcrowded and vulnerable to disease and violence.
silent tapes is a non-profit series of projects lead by Francis and Stephanie Lane, which focus on documenting the lives of people from various slums around the world and generating funds for those communities through their artistry. Their amazing photography opens us up to the world of slums, capturing their stories and moments, allowing us a glimpse into their world. Their photos make us aware of what life is like for many, which is foreign to a lot of us.
I had the privilege to talk with Francis and Stephanie Lane about their philanthropy, and they believe that through their photography they can make an impact on lives through art. Their social change organization, silent tapes, believes that all humans have the right to a dignified quality of life, which includes adequate basic needs, education, and security.
You create art to help provide needs in slums around the world. What defines a slum and what drew you both towards such compassion for them?
We will leave the literal definition of a "slum" to be googled, and say that what truly defines a slum is much more than anything we grasped prior to stepping foot into one. There is such a vast spectrum of life, and stories untold, in the slums. There are people in desperate need to be heard, and to be cared for, and anyone capable of offering a listen or a hand should do so. On a personal level, we wanted to see the truth in everything each country had to offer, and that included its richest and poorest areas. Experiencing, learning, and growing from every corner of the world, and being open and compassionate towards them, is what we are looking for.
How do families break out of life in the slums?
Aside from the unlikely event that a country's social welfare net brings the people of their country out of poverty, their best tools are education and/or small business opportunities. Micro-financing, education, and prevention of child abuse/corruption all are essential to opening possibilities to families trying to break the cycle of slum life. Gender equality would also have an immense positive impact. If the female labor force was utilized in urban areas to its full potential, it would have economic benefits that would serve well beyond those cities.
What do you think is the basis for this injustice?
Rapid urbanization as well as temporary migrations for seasonal work are just a couple factors that come to mind. There is also a lack of government policy enforcement which creates a vulnerable and stagnant situation for the people living in these conditions. An argument could be made that the current global model of capitalism causes slums to exist, not only because it drives urbanization but because it necessitates inequality in increasing the gap between the rich and poor, eroding social welfare.
When did silent tapes philanthropic work begin? How long has the organization been running?
We're approaching our one-year anniversary! Our Klong Toei project was the launch project for silent tapes, which began March 2013. Our organization works on a one-year cycle program for our selected cities. Our vision is to continue to add new areas of focus year after year, sustaining our programs for all slums through fundraising and outreach, and eventually creating an umbrella of communities all over the world which we have supported.
How do you find non-governmental organizations and communities to partner with? Is this a difficult process or are many organizations ready and willing to partner?
For our launch project, we mostly were looking for an organization that was heavily involved in the local community through grassroots projects. We wanted to make sure we were partnering with someone who had concrete, meaningful relationships with the local people, and that really were invested in helping by working together one-on-one. Additionally, we sought a specific measure of impact on the lives of the children benefitting from our partners endeavors, such as abuse prevention, health standards, and empowerment of families in the local communities. Some organizations may not be willing to partner due to legal or religious differences, but we were lucky to find the perfect match in Klong Toei.
What do you find is your biggest challenge as a social change organization?
Our biggest challenge is ensuring we are creating and supporting projects that have long-term sustainability in order to help shape a better future for people in the slums that we do our work in.
Your photography is absolutely amazing. What are you trying to capture in these images?
Thank you. We try to capture honest moments that truly identify the lifestyle of people in some of the most destitute communities in the world. Most of the time, we only come across photographs sensationalizing their lives, depicting them as unhappy or unfortunate. In our experience, this is not entirely the case.
You had great success with your first project in Klong Toei, Bangkok. Was there a moment, specific person you met, or event, where you felt silent tapes was making a difference? What has changed you the most?
There is a 5-year-old little boy who attends the day care which we support in Klong Toei. We ran into him on a Saturday afternoon, roaming about by himself in the alleyways of the slum. We suddenly realized that if he did not have the daycare to attend during the week, this innocent boy would be more susceptible to abandonment, child abuse, or other harmful activities at his tender age. He wouldn't have anybody to look after him. It is for children like him that we love and care about what we do, because everybody deserves opportunity to a better life.
What do we take more for granted, that the families from these slums cherish the most?
Opportunity and equality, across the board.
Your next project will be in Brazil. Tell us about how this place was chosen? What is your ultimate goal?
Being of Brazilian background, Stephanie's first visit to the country has been long overdue. In seeking a location for our second project, we realized it would be ideal to go to a place where not only was there urgent need for NGO's like ours, but also a familiarity for us on different cultural levels. Our project dates also are concurrent with the World Cup events, so we plan to capitalize on the consequent global attention to raise awareness of the less glamorous side of the country, i.e child prostitution, drug abuse, etc. Our ultimate goal is to have our compelling silent tapes Fortaleza project be an overwhelming success in both fundraising and public awareness in order to provide ongoing support to the children in Fortaleza.
What are some very future projects you’re the most excited for?
We are entirely focused on Brazil at the moment, since we create our projects on a yearly basis, although there are many other areas already in mind for the future! Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Africa, to name a few. Our hope is to one day also be able to partner with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, who have inspired us with their incredible advocacy and book, Half the Sky.
Support silent tapes by visiting their website or purchasing Thought Notebook Journal Issue 2. 10% of all sales gets donated to the organization.
The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help enhance the well-being of the artist and anyone else involved. That’s why people all over are dedicating their careers to Art Therapy, whiles are others are dedicating their time and talents for the same purpose by volunteering. People have been using the arts as a way to express, communicate and heal for all of humanity. In learning more about Art Therapy, I came across CoachArt, a social change organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children in California with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their siblings by providing free lessons in the arts and athletics. They rely on volunteer mentors who are matched with patients for lessons that offer creative outlets as a distraction from pain, isolation and other ailments often associated with chronic illnesses. The organization’s guiding principle is to enhance the lives of chronically ill youth by tapping into the resources from the coaching community. Mentors from fields such as music, dance, theater, writing and sports, help bring this vision to a reality. CoachArt participates in the art of improving lives!
In wanting to learn more about the 'art of improving lives', I connected with Thyonne Gordon, Executive Director of CoachArt. She is responsible for keeping the lights on, keeping the doors open and the general run of business. She manages a staff of 14 employees and over 700 volunteers. Her background is in Business Management and Operations and she has a doctorate in Human and Organizational Development. She loves developing and growing organizations and people.
When and how did the organization begin?
CoachArt was conceived in 2000 by Zander Lurie in memory of his father, Dr. "Art" Lurie, a cardiac surgeon who loved teaching and mentoring children. Zander, together with family friend, Leah Bernthal, set out to create an organization that would enhance the lives of chronically-ill children by tapping into the abundant resources of the Greater Los Angeles community, particularly in the arenas of art, music and athletics.
CoachArt received nonprofit status in 2001, and spent the next 18 months creating a program that would fill a critical need in the community. Healthcare professionals, chronically-ill children and their families, and individuals interested in volunteering enthusiastically embraced the concept of matching pediatric patients with mentors for free, recreational lessons. In 2002, CoachArt launched a pilot Outpatient Mentoring Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, enrolling 50 patients in free arts and athletics lessons. Due to the emotional needs of our patients' siblings, the program was later expanded to include family members. CoachArt now serves over 2000 students a year in Northern and Southern California via Outpatient Mentoring, In-Hospital Workshops, Activity Clinics and Special Program Events.
How old are the patients that are involved in this unique program?
CoachArt works with chronically-ill children and their siblings, 6 to 18 years of age. Of the over 2,000 children served in 2012, approximately 70% were Latino, 14% were African American, 9% were Caucasian, 4% were Asian-American, and 3% were from other ethnic backgrounds such as Native American, East Indian or Middle Eastern. CoachArt works with approximately equal numbers of male and female students. CoachArt patients have been diagnosed with any of over 100 chronic illnesses.
Where do you find your volunteers and who are they?
Volunteers are a mix of professionals, community centers and other nonprofit partners (like nonprofits, corporations and organizations). Word of mouth is our best source of engagement while we also use Volunteer Search and other web based programs. We also go to corporate events and display at community events.
What type of lessons do patients like to participate in?
Lessons include Music (voice and instruments), Dance, Visual Art, Culinary, Basketball, Baseball and Soccer.
Where do the activities take place?
Activities take place in the home or local community centers partnering with CoachArt.
What type of effect have you seen these programs bring to the people involved?
CoachArt lessons make our kids and parents smile, laugh and have fun. We have no recorded data that documents healing affects yet, our parents and doctors tell us that they've seen increased motor skills, emotional outlooks and social engagement when kids participate in our programs.
Here's a story of a CoachArt youth:
Meet Brett (African American, music, pre-teen)
Brett’s family was in “no man’s land.” Their son Brett no longer was a hospital inpatient, but he was receiving debilitating outpatient cancer treatments. Brett wasn’t well enough to be at school or do normal activities, and he was sick and tired of treatments. That’s when CoachArt stepped in and gave Brett free lessons in art and music. Suddenly things began to change.
Adele, Brett’s Mother: “One day life was perfect and—boom--the next day it wasn’t. Our son Brett was a normal kid with two working parents. He loved sports. When Brett was 5, doctors discovered that a lump in his mouth was cancer, Embryonal Rhabdomysocarcoma. Brett was quite sick and my husband and I spent all our time taking care of him and researching treatments. To save his life, I stopped working to devote unlimited time to Brett. Our income was cut nearly in half and medical bills came pouring in. Brett couldn’t go to school, because his resistance was too low. Sports were out of the question. When CoachArt came into our lives, Brett was an outpatient undergoing cancer treatments, and couldn’t lead a normal life. His immune system was compromised, so his friends couldn’t visit and he had to stay homebound.
CoachArt changed all that. Sean, his first CoachArt mentor, gave him art lessons, which lifted his spirits and gave him a way to express himself. Sean treated Brett like any other kid, not like a sick kid. And Sean was there for Brett every week, whether Brett was full of energy or feeling totally awful. If Brett looked too tired to paint, Sean would come up with something else fun. Once he suggested that they kick the ball around the house, because Sean knew Brett would get a reaction from me. Brett loved that – a chance to feel like a mischievous kid.
Once Brett starting feeling better, he asked for piano lessons. CoachArt arranged for a new mentor – Tom, to give him weekly lessons. Just like Sean, Tom comes to our house every week, no matter what. I look forward to Brett’s lesson with Tom. Sometimes I even nap to the sound of their music and laughter. Without CoachArt it would have been impossible to give Brett these opportunities to be a happy, regular kid.”
Tom, Brett’s Volunteer Mentor: “I’m a Software Engineer. I have a good job and a nice life, but I didn’t realize what was missing until I found CoachArt.
I love piano, so CoachArt matched me up with Brett. All I had to do was go to this boy’s home and give him lessons. Easy. But little did I know how touched I would be by the experience of knowing Brett and his parents. Over the past two years Brett and I have been on an incredible journey, without ever leaving the piano bench. When we started, his music skills were rusty and his coordination was a bit off. Now he’s playing Mozart! Sometimes we’ll sit at the piano and Brett will confide in me about how he feels or how he’s nervous about a treatment. Other times we’ll talk about great composers.
Brett: “I want to be a good pianist and learn more. I love playing piano and I want to play everything! Right now I’m working on “The Wild Horseman” by Robert Schumann – it’s my new favorite.”
How can people get involved?
It's easy to get involved. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 213-736-2850 or send us a note to 3303 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 320 LA 90010 and we'll let you know exactly what you can do!
Through the arts and recreation programs provided, what success is expected from the patients?
Our programs are for fun and learning. The most we can assure is that the fun and learning will occur. Students will also be engaged so that they can take their mind off the illness affecting the family and focus on fun. We are not a therapy program so we do not proclaim any therapeutic effects. But we guarantee play!
What is the organization’s biggest hurdle at this point?
As with most nonprofits in these difficult times finding resources is always challenging. In particular, we need volunteers who live and can service the South LA area and the Oakland area of California. We also need funding to continue the great work being done by CoachArt.
What has been the biggest success thus far?
Our biggest success takes us back to our mission. We provide quality arts and sports programs for kids with chronic illness and they have LOADS of fun! We created a program for corporate partners to get involved. Our Volunteer Supervisor goes out and teaches about CoachArt and then people volunteer to support. The corporations will take a group of kids and teach them something for about a 2 hour period. We've done gardening, ginger bread house building, pizza making and even golf! The corporate volunteers have fun and of course, the kids have a blast. This collaboration has been a big success as we're able to service more kids and we get volunteers engaged pretty quickly to come on board as regulars.
Consider donating to CoachArt by visiting www.coachart.org or purchasing a copy of Thought Notebook Journal Issue 1 - 10% of sales go to support this organization.