Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The big bang

Last week, I met with a group of Mariemont High schoolers who really impressed me. I mean really. I had been corresponding with one of the leadership-class students for a number of weeks over how they could serve Artsy Fartsy Saturdays. I have to come clean and confess that their teacher is a college friend of mine, yet I think all she did was suggest the idea.

As we traded e-mails and looked at schedules, it became apparent that the December session was our best bet, so I shared a few, sketchy ideas. Very quickly, the spokesperson wrote back to me with a wonderful plan the class had dreamed up. Then we agreed on my visiting their them to pin down details. That was a joy.

It's a small group of about a dozen, so it felt intimate and informal. I gave them my little spiel on Artsy Fartsy, then they drafted an outline on the smartboard of how this event was coming together. I didn't have to do a thing. Each member contributed something and a plan was hammered out. They would bake cookies, create personalized Christmas cards for each child and lead carol singing, complete with custom songbooks.

That all dovetails so nicely into my friend, Marianne, who is a professional cake decorator, leading the kids in coloring buckets of icing, learning to work with fondant and concocting fantastic holiday cookies. On top of that, many wonderful bakers have volunteered an assortment of cookies so these kids go home with a Christmas-cookie experience (reinforced with goodies) to remember. The first batch just arrived this morning from a generous and kind complete stranger! And, our favorite Santa, Johnny Villardo, hopes to make an appearance with candy canes if he's free.

It will be wild and wonderful as a film crew, making a documentary on Cincinnati Friends Meeting's 200th anniversary next year, stops by for a snippet of footage.

This week, I promised the Mariemont students a list of Artsy Fartsy participants and a little about each one ... so they could really personalize the cards. And, as I reflected on these kids, the ones I know well and the one I'd like to know better, I was struck by how much they are in my heart and how truly amazing they are. I'd like to share that list here, so you can get a sense of them.

Elizabeth completed Artsy Fartsy and is now a mentor. She has grown from a rebel into a leader, always expressing her gratitude for the program. Lots of energy and willing to attempt anything artwise. Did some work at Brazee Glass Studio last spring because she so impressed the owner. She is one of the original AF kids and penned a wonderful poem about the program when a poet visited that first year.
Justice is another original AF kid, though we haven’t seen her as much the past year because she spends weekends with her grandmother. Quiet and somewhat, shy, she's the one who first agreed to dress up for the American-Gothic shoot and got the others on board. She's obsessed with the Titanic and was delighted to learn our building was constructed the same year it sunk; some sort of poetic "justice." Fell in love with the sparkling blue, Dale Chihuly sculpture at the entrance to the Cincinnati Art Museum and awed me with her astute description.
Angel is now a gentle mentor, one of the originals, and truly blossomed. Initially, textures bothered her (her face is etched in my mind the day we mixed peanut butter and honey) and she was glued to her phone, which she used for recording what we were doing. I think it was her introductory filter and way of capturing life. Now, she is confident, will try most things, enjoys helping others and encourages me with her notes.
Alyshia captivated me from the start with her wildness, attributable to the fact she's the only girl among many brothers. Bouncing around assorted relatives in the complex, I have a hard time pinning her down, yet it's so worth it. When she shows up, she is intent on making art. Says it takes her to her happy place. Love her energy and how her athletic legs carry her quickly away from the boys. She needs to run cross country. 
Layla, Justice’s younger sister, will always hold a special place in my heart. In the very beginning of the program, when I drove up, car loaded with yard signs and planted the first one, she wanted to know all about Artsy Fartsy and said she'd be at the sign-up. She was ... as the first in line. I also remember her running around the day I served orange Hawaiian Punch and she spit it back up. No more grossly-sweet drinks, I vowed. She constantly teaches me.
Emijah didn't allow me in right away and I wasn't certain what she was getting out of the experience. Until one day when I real observed her: sitting and thinking. I swear I could see the gears whirling. Then, she sat some more and went to work. Quietly, methodically, meticulously and oblivious to anyone else. She consistently produces beautiful, original work and infuses the room with her quietness.
Aariana bounces around like Tigger, curious, wanting to absorb it all. Each year, she has grown bolder, still sweet and respectful, but more of herself: smart and sassy. Her mother told me she'll cry if she can't attend a session. High water or not, I know Aariana will be here. The rare times she's not, something crucial is missing. She's a good friend to all and instills a strong sense of community at Artsy Fartsy.
Dorrian didn't arrive so willingly; I had to work on this kid, whom I really, really wanted. Now he's in junior high and his two younger brothers attend, so he's pretty scarce. But when he comes, the room lights up, even in his pre-teeny, I-don't-want-to-do-it ways. Because he really does. Like the day we did yoga. All of these lithe, young bodies were complaining that it was so hard, yet their form and spirit were great. You'd have been bowled over at how still they were for shivasana and meditation.
Dauson makes me smile because he's so infection, though I know he' up to something. Mostly berating himself because his work is not perfect. One of these days, I am going to plan a session entitled "Art by Accident" and dedicate it to him and all of the other kids who don't get that this is a process, not an end product. He is making progress, however. At least things don't make it to the trash can any more.
Dalton is new this year and been eagerly waiting until he was old enough to join his brothers. He is a bolt of energy that roars in, digs in, is done and on to the next thing. Surprisingly, he has a simply, bold style that works. His slap-dash clay gratitude bowl blew the mind of my Quaker minster, who worked next to him, laboring over hers. He's a breath of fresh air.
Donovan arrived last year and grounded the giggly girls and on-the-periphery boys. He plans and manifests. His super-hero cape became dimensional after careful sketches. My daughter, who led the session, was impressed. We had him in mind when we drafted a rough script for our Halloween movie and were disappointed when he was absent. I tried to talk him into coming, but he was right in saying his mother was at work and he couldn't leave. Smart, sensible kid with a captivating smile.
McKenzee is a piece of work and that is a high praise. She is the light of the party, always prepared with a change of shoes and unimaginable array of things tucked into her overly large purse. Last spring at an arts opening, one of the chaperones was concerned about her walking up a fire escape in her high heels to a studio until she whipped out a pair of flat boots. She's our best recruiter.
Kira has wanted to join us for years, but our sessions always fell on a weekend she was away. She flows right in with respectfulness, a graciousness rare in someone so young, and as a dedicated artist. She's a lovely girl that helps settle the group.
Jenna came at McKenzee's calling, quiet and a follower ... until this October when she starred in our Halloween movie. She took direction incredibly well, projected and added her own twist into the main character, who kept noticing odd things at the school and was chased by the ghost …until she awoke and it had been a dream. She's a welcome addition and we are honored to watch her bloom.
Jasmine seems ruffled by nothing, that face-lighting smile always on and genuine. She overslept month before last and when I knocked on her door wasn't ready. No problem, she said and, in five minutes, was perky and dressed to make art. She's the peacemaker who will happily ride wherever assigned when others are obstinate.
Hope: has a rare joie de vivre for such a youngster. She wants to experience life full on. Take our clay bowls, for instance. "Of course, I know how to do this,"she insisted, adding water to her bowl and enjoying the messiness. Not rattled when the bowl could not be budged, she pulled it apart and reconfigured it, happy to keep working in the medium. She's all about the process ... and enjoying it.
Jayvin is really an unknown as we only met him at registration, though he fit right in at attempting new materials and methods, eager to join the group. We hope to get to know him better and that he'll join us on our turf.
Brianne, or Bri as she prefers, is another McKenzee recruit who had a blast with us at registration. She embraced our movie-making and is a nice boost of energy and enthusiasm. He grandfather tagged along last time, enjoying himself and adding to the cadry of caring adults.
Emilie is a newbie to the program and community, but we love her grit. She exhibits a gutsiness and independence that could make a great artist. When she had a conflict at registration, she later confessed they'd work it out and were friends. We hope we can make her feel welcome all the way around because we like this girl.

Can't wait for these mature high schoolers to meet up with our amazing Artsy Fartsy kids. Could be a match made in heaven!

• When have you been impressed by a group of kids?
• How have they surprised you?
• How does your community support kids?
• How have you encouraged kids?
• How do you recognize that of God in every child (person)?

waiting for
the big

kind high

meet head
on with
brash, curious
middle schoolers

and see the
fireworks fly

Spirit's doing,

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