In January 2009, I began my year of Americorps service through Hands On Gulf Coast. As an Art Outreach Specialist with the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, I have worked with hundreds of children in three counties along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
This area was decimated by Hurricane Katrina, and many of these children experienced the devastation of their homes and schools, lived in temporary housing or shelters, and some lost loved ones or pets in the storm.
The highlight of my year thus far has been my work with approximately 50 students at Gulfport High School. Our task was to create works of art for a local nine-bed in-patient hospice. On a very small budget, the students began by discussing the mission of hospice.
As a group they crafted sculptural works from metal, plastic, and wood. Many also donated photos and paintings they had previously produced in their art classes.
In May, we dedicated the work in a ceremony at Canon Hospice, and I saw how this work benefitted not only the staff, patients, and families at the hospice, but affirmed the generosity and warmth of the student artists. What began as a simple assignment--to make art--offered so many moments of learning and insight. I could not have been more proud.
As the Coast's rebuilding effort continues on, there is still so much to be done. Arts education nurtures the spirit, invites inquiry and introspection, fosters healthy self-expression and develops thinking skills critical to success in academics.
As I travel to schools, libraries, community events and summer camps, I realize what value there is, not just in making art, but connecting with others in need, and I know as I look back on this year, I will regard it as one of the most transformational experiences of my life.