Christmas is a challenging time for many of our kids. It can be a bitter reminder that the peace of a loving family is a dream they have been denied. Still others may have memories of simpler times with loved ones that no longer seem possible. For kids with mental health issues or trauma, the vision of a merry Christmas can feel even more remote.
At Arts and Minds, our life skills program that offers arts, music and sports to help youth develop self-confidence and social skills, there is an atmosphere of peaceful celebration this time of year. The youth have carefully decorated the space with handmade creations and, more often than not, an aroma of fresh baked cookies graces the air.
This program is open to all youth, but it is especially beneficial to youth coping with mental health issues. Youth in the program are often recovering from severe trauma or contending with serious conditions such as schizophrenia. In the bright and welcoming space, there are art supplies, recreational activities and a full kitchen. Structured workshops and counselling are given, as well as time for relaxation and healing.
Carol, our program coordinator, creates workshops and opportunities for the youth in Arts and Minds to teach them social skills, teamwork and other life skills through art, cooking and volunteer opportunities. Carol’s nurturing warmth and mindful guidance has made her a meaningful influence to many youth.
At Christmas, the youth in the program work hard on making beautiful gifts for friends and family. They also put on an art show that is open to staff. The striking art they produce in the program often captures the eyes of our supporters. In fact, they have been asked to participate in public art commissions numerous times. The kids also go on a Christmas outing, which helps to create a sense of community over the holidays.
For Owen, Arts and Minds has provided him with stability that he has never known. Every day at the program, he asks Carol, “Will I see you tomorrow?” She assures him that that is her plan. The exchange makes it poignantly clear that he has never had an adult in his young life that he could truly rely on.
Owen’s mother is an addict who neglected him as she struggled with her own demons. Their home often had strange men visiting her in exchange for drugs. Today, Owen is still jittery and on-edge after a childhood filled with dangerous experiences. He speaks of his mom with concern and affection. He told Carol that he felt OK when he first came to us, but this time of year is especially hard. His goal is to spend Christmas day with his mom this year, but it may not be safe to do so. “At least if I stay here, I will be among friends,” he reflects.
“I love the kids. Our purpose at Covenant House is to make those connections with them, that difference,” shares Carol. Watching the change in the kids is the most gratifying aspect of her work for her. Often kids will arrive at Arts and Minds who are barely able to interact with others, and within a couple of weeks, they will be asking for a workshop to learn something new.
For more about Arts and Minds, click here.