Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona is a Phoenix-based nonprofit organization with a mission of “transforming children’s trauma to resilience through the arts.” The staff and volunteers work with children who have experienced abuse, neglect and/or homelessness in a variety of settings. Free Arts provides a weekly mentoring program, professional artist series, free arts days and a camp where children learn how to express their stories through art. Michael Jung, a freelance writer who supports local arts, is a Free Arts volunteer who recently told us about his experience with the organization.
How did you become involved with Free Arts?
I became involved with Free Arts when I first moved to Phoenix. I knew I wanted to volunteer, work with children, and do something that reflected my love of the arts. When I saw Free Arts appear on the first page of my Internet search for “volunteer opportunities in the arts near me,” I immediately signed up for an orientation.
What do you do as a volunteer?
I’ve been involved in free arts days where I supervise children as they tour museums, cultural organizations and special arts-related events. I also help run arts and crafts tables for younger children during public events like Mic Check, a partnership between Free Arts and local nonprofit Phonetic Spit, where older teens and young adults find, develop and present their voices in a reflective and insightful manner.
Can you tell me about a memorable moment working with one of the children?
While volunteering as a supervisor at the Musical Instrument Museum, one of the children who’d been to the museum before took it upon himself to tell me all about some of the exhibits! I thought it was great that a kid would take such initiative.
How does volunteering at Free Arts enrich your life?
I enjoy working with children and seeing them respond so positively to creating a sculpture, playing with a musical instrument or exploring an art exhibit is always rewarding.
Why is it important for these children to have exposure to the arts?
Providing exposure to the arts is important for any child, but what I’ve learned through Free Arts’ trauma-informed approach is that experiencing and participating in art activities can have a profound impact on traumatized children. The very act of drawing, singing or playing a musical instrument has a calming effect that helps children gain or regain a sense of balance. There have even been studies showing that exposure to the arts offers positive effects on a developing child’s brain and body chemistry. Since negative stimuli, like abuse and trauma, can have detrimental effects on a child’s brain development, offering access to the arts is essential for healing.
What would you like people to know about Free Arts?
Free Arts programs may be designed to offer positive experiences for children, but the adults who volunteer in these programs get a lot out of them too. Working with children can be healing for adults and getting a chance to exercise your empathy is always important. Plus, being around so many amazing art activities is always fun!