Worry monsters and hope packets: How Free Arts for Abused Kids of Arizona pivoted through COVID

Worry monsters and hope packets: How Free Arts for Abused Kids of Arizona pivoted through COVID

Free Arts

by Troy Hill, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

March 29, 2021

Free Arts for Abused Kids of Arizona is a Phoenix nonprofit organization that focuses on providing fun, arts-related programming with trauma-informed care in order to help kids.

In a normal year, they offer a number of programs during the spring and fall, including mentorship programs within group homes or shelter settings that help kids make art to express their feelings, and their professional artist series, where an artist teaches kids a specific artform, from singing and dancing to poetry and African drumming.

When COVID hit last year, Free Arts had just finished up their spring camp, and they made the decision to work from home.

“We immediately sent out some communications to all of our partners - people who work in and run group homes and shelters and residential treatment centers - so they would know that we were going to be reimagining programming and thinking about how we could still connect with the children,” said Marisa Arellano, program manager for Free Arts.

By April, they had already come up with several initiatives to implement. Arellano said they were thinking about what the kids could need at the time because of the specific situation many of them are in.

“We have to remember that all of our children have suffered some type of abuse, neglect or homelessness,” Arellano said. “Now we're layering a situation of a scary time in the world, and a pandemic on top of the things they're already trying to process and understand.”

Free Arts

One of the first programs they came up with for the pandemic was pre-recorded classes for their YouTube channel. Artists recorded videos teaching the art, accessible to the kids online at any time.

They also made a short series on trauma-informed care for volunteers and others who wanted to learn how to better care for the kids they were serving.

Another project they launched was “Hope” packets, which they sent to all of their partners across the Valley. These packets included a supportive letter and ideas for activities and projects that the kids could do with items around the house.

Free Arts to-go bagsAs they got further into the pandemic, they developed “to-go art projects” that they started to deliver across the Valley. They sent various supplies, from watercolors to colored pencils and crayons and more, so that kids could do projects called “Art with Intention.”

“They were all reflective projects,” Arellano said. “For example, you could think about something that worries you and create a ‘worry monster’ and tell your worries to that monster and that monster would take your worries away.”

From April through August 2020, they were able to deliver over 8,000 of these projects to more than 2,000 children across the Valley. They even still hosted their summer camps, though on a much smaller scale.

For one theater camp, they took it virtual and delivered laptops to about 15 participants around the Valley. The kids attended online, and they recorded and cut together the performances to have the final production at the end of the week.

Later in July, they had a small, in-person camp, reduced from 80 to 25 children with all the proper safety procedures to make sure the kids were safe. They had several artists come to teach them various multicultural arts.

In the midst of a challenging year, “That was a pretty exciting thing for these children,” Arellano said.

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Nonprofit Innovation Hub

We want to hear your success stories. Organizations are invited to contribute to the ASU Lodestar Center's Nonprofit Innovation Hub and share how they are adapting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Submissions will contribute to an indispensable resource and help lift up the nonprofit community during this time of need.