Tag Archives: arts and crafts

Creative Arts Workshops for Kids

24 Feb

What: work on educational art projects with kids, through New York Cares

Where: El Faro Beacon School, East Harlem

When: Saturdays, 11:30am-3:30pm

When you first get to the Beacon School, you’ll sign in and head downstairs to the basement cafeteria. Besides that one detail, I’m pretty sure what awaits you will be different every time you volunteer with the Creative Arts Workshop Saturday Art Works program. The project we had for the day I was volunteering was to make a giant-sized puppet of an iconic African-American, in honor of Black History Month. The volunteers spent the first 45 minutes or so sorting through scraps of fabric, markers, crayons, and putting together the wood bases that would serve as a skeleton of sorts for the puppet. We then got a brief introduction to the program and some guidelines on working with children (don’t go anywhere alone with a child, ask for help from a program staffer if a child is being difficult, etc.). While this was going on, about 30 kids filed in and waiting for the program to begin.

Averaging about 8 years old, the kids gathered in a circle to hear about the project for the day. We then broke into groups to read about 10 different historical figures from Black History. After this, each group had to pick one person to turn into a giant puppet; our group chose Frederick Douglass and got to work making the best-dressed puppet in the place, thanks an imaginative 7 year old with fashion sense beyond his years. At around 2:30, everyone gathered again in a circle to present their characters and put on a brief play using the knowledge they learned from the books we read earlier in the day.

According to their website, “CAW is a nonprofit organization that utilizes the visual and performing arts to teach life skills to children and teens while enriching communities.” Though I volunteered through New York Cares, you can volunteer directly with CAW, who offer the workshops three Saturdays out of every month in East Harlem and Washington Heights. The workshops use the arts to promote creativity through a variety of mediums, including painting, drawing, montage, sculpture, dance, singing/rap, theater, music, reading, writing, gardening and any other practices that allow for creation and self-expression. They also have a number of other programs that serve the community and it’s children: Summer Art Works, After School Art Works, and the Giraffe Path, which is an annual arts project taking place this June. For more information about the Creative Arts Workshops for Kids, visit their website.

When the day started, I was slightly nervous about being able to mentor a child and display a certain level of intelligence. For some reason, I find the honesty of children extremely intimidating; the disapproval or ridicule of a 9 year old I’ve never met has almost the same affect on me as the disapproval of my own parents.  I know its probably an unwarranted, ridiculous fear, but one I have none the less. And I’ve got to be honest: Black History is not a topic I’m an expert on. How do I teach kids about something I know nothing about? The books we read to them had some popular names of course, whose history I’m well aware of, but I wasn’t going to pretend that I knew where Frederick Douglass was born. If there was a quiz at the beginning of the day I would have undoubtedly failed with flying colors. But i digress…. As with every other time I volunteer with kids, it only takes about 5 minutes for me to realize that they are there to learn and have fun, and anything you do can only help them achieve that. They’re not nearly as judgmental as adults, which is a nice departure from reality if only for a few hours. One of the great things about mentoring kids is that you can both pick up a book and learn along side each other. Some other things to know:

  • Eat a big breakfast. You’ll be here for a while, and although you’re given the option of taking a juice-box and small snack,  6 mini pretzel sticks won’t cut it as a lunch for me personally, since I’m no longer 3 feet tall and 30 lbs.
  • The projects vary, but there’s a good chance markers, glue and/or paint will be involved. You’ll also be sitting on the floor and moving around a lot. Dress appropriately.
  • The Creative Arts Workshops students and volunteers have painted some pretty cool murals around Harlem in the past few years. After the project, take a stroll down 124th Street and see if you can find some; if you don’t  have time, check out the pictures I took above or head to the their online gallery.
  • This project seems to attract a lot of artistic volunteers; including myself, the group of volunteers I worked with were all employed in graphic design. It’s not a surprising fact- the project is called Creative Arts Workshop. I’m just saying…this is a good activity for artsy-fartsy volunteers like myself.
  • For those now wondering, Frederick Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland.

Christmas Party with ICSF

18 Dec

Last Saturday I was able to help out at the Inner City Scholarship Fund’s Christmas Party, put together every year by the Junior Committee. From the outside, Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Elementary School in East Harlem didn’t look too festive, but once I went inside and down to the basement, I immediately found the Christmas cheer. The basement had been transformed into a child’s wonderland, with tables covered in red and green, each one a different arts and crafts station. Towards the back of the room, I saw a big comfy chair surrounded by presents and decorations, clearly for Santa, which got me (and the kids) pretty excited.

Before the party got started, volunteers and members of the ICSF Junior Committee set up each table with a different activity: cookie and cupcake decorating, ornament making, decorations, and jewelry making. We also had to put together goodie bags for the kids (1st and 2nd graders) to take home after the party, which included coloring books, crayons, Radio City key chains, necklaces and pencils (all of which were generously donated).

As soon as the kids came in, it was every man and woman for themselves. The only thing us volunteers really had to do was have fun with the kids and help them if they had problems with any of the projects. Luckily, the projects were easy to explain and age-appropriate, so we mostly just got to have fun. The jewelry-making tables were a big hit with the girls, who made tons of cute bracelets for themselves and to give as presents. I started off at one of the ornament-making tables, where I helped some of the boys put together and paint miniature wooden sleds. I kept getting distracted by the giggles at the adjacent table, which was covered in candy. I hadn’t realized how much stuff was on the cookie decorating table: gum drops, swedish fish, sprinkles, icing, cookies, cupcakes. What kid wouldn’t want to sit at a table and do whatever they want with that stuff? I could hardly control myself and I’m 26.

After about two hours of crafts and sugar rushes, it was time to entice Santa with some carols. The Junior Committee made caroling books and everyone sang together until we heard the jingle bells: Santa and two elves made their way towards the kids, who were screaming and jumping and hugging each other. As an adult, somehow, I’ve never been in a room full of children when Santa arrives; it gave me chills (the good kind) to see how happy they were. Pure joy. Just by seeing a guy in a red suit. Ahh, to be young again.

After everyone calmed down, Santa sat in his chair and read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, which is amazing considering how many cookies those kids ate. After the story everyone lined up to take their picture with Santa and make their Christmas wishes. However, I feel I should mention that one girl chose not to take her picture with this particular Santa, because she knew he was a fake; no, she declared, she would be going to Sears to see the REAL Santa later that week. Kids…they say the darndest things…

Throughout the morning I heard more than one child say “this is the best day of my life”. I must admit-I may have had more fun than some of the kids. I love crafting. And cookies. The ICSF Junior Committee did a great job putting this together, sparing no details, and I can safely assume that everyone who showed up -young or old- left with a lot more holiday cheer than they came with. They were nice enough to share their photos from the day, taken by photographer Chris La Putt:

Photos courtesy of Chris La Putt

The Junior Committee supports ICSF students by organizing a variety of programs, including monthly trips to NYC cultural institutions, tutoring and athletics programs, annual parties and community-service initiatives. For more information about the programs and how to get involved, click here.

Art Explorers at Nazareth Housing

4 Aug

What: Hang out with kids, do some arts and crafts

Where: Nazareth Housing, East Village, through New York Cares

When: Thursday, 5:45-730pm

This project took place in the E. 4th Street building, one of three locations Nazareth Housing operates in the East Village. This is where the youth programs are held in addition to other services, such as educational workshops for adults and computer literacy classes. While the parents were taking a class in financial planning, the volunteers were supposed to be hanging out with their children; doing arts & crafts, playing cards, talking. The purpose of this project is not only to help the parents, but also to keep the kids entertained and out of trouble. Mostly ages 3-9, the children here are often unhappy, because of their living situation (or lack thereof). You’re here to have a good time with them and make them feel good. Doesn’t sound  too hard. I’ll have to go again when there’s actually kids there.

This project  was unfortunately a bust. There was a mix up in the scheduling of a field trip, and the kids weren’t there the day I volunteered. I was disappointed, but even more so after talking with the New York Cares team leader Muthu, who talked up the program so much I thought it may be better than Disney World. Maybe. He was a wealth of volunteer information, spewing out names of organizations and places to volunteer with kids for about a half an hour. Hopefully one day I’ll get to speak with him more about what he’s done at Nazareth and beyond, but for now, I can tell you what I learned..

According to their website,Nazareth Housing is committed to the promotion of housing stability and economic independence among poor families and youth of New York City, through the provision of: transitional shelter, homelessness prevention services, self-sufficiency education, supportive housing, youth programming.”. A lot of the residents who live here are single mothers and children, coming from volatile relationships involving domestic abuse. They often come with a bag on their back and nothing else; this is one reason that Nazareth always has food out. At any time of day or night, you can get a meal, no questions asked.

Currently, Nazareth Housing oversees 40 units of permanent housing and thirteen units of transitional housing. The great thing about this organization is the sense of order they restore in people’s lives. They offer a safe haven for those who can no longer afford to live in their home,be it for financial reasons or for their own personal safety. They then receive free services to help them get back on their feet and living independently; meanwhile, their children are offered educational programs,social outings, and other enriching activities to ensure that they too can grow and learn in Nazareth. The end result is a person or family who is able to retain and remain in their own stable housing. Nazareth Housing is not a glorified handout; it’s an opportunity to get your life back.

But there is so much MORE to know-you should really read their website and find out. Here’s some other things to know:

-If you sign up for this particular project, feel free to bring a deck of cards, a boardgame, crayons, anything. You can take it home with you or leave it behind for future use; either way, it’ll give the kids a greater variety of fun things they can do with you for 2 hours.

-Don’t have time to go volunteer, but really want to help Nazareth Housing? They have a wishlist of donations you can choose from and it can all be done online. Alternatively, they also take used furniture and household goods. But don’t just drop off your old Ikea couch in front of their door and speed off; check out the details here, make a phone call to the program assistant. Don’t donate anything you wouldn’t give to a friend; they don’t need your beer-stained futon from college any more than you do.

-You’re probably hungry aren’t you. After volunteering for two hours right at dinner time, you’re gonna be hungry. I can tell. After you’re done, head over to Pommes Frites on 2nd Ave between St. Marks and 7th. Belgium fries with your choice of 25 dippings sauces and mayo’s. You’ll never look at french fries the same way again…unless you go back for seconds.