Finding Love and Belonging at Free Arts
Our foster daughter is 17 and lost her whole family (mom, dad, brother, and sister) to violence a few years ago. She also experienced violence and trauma periodically since the day she was born. She was born in a foreign country with a lot of war. She moved to the States only five months before she participated in her first Free Arts event: a Multi-Cultural Arts camp. Her English was very limited, but she’s open to trying new things and gave it a shot. I was nervous to drop her off that first day but was so pleased to see the Free Arts staff welcome her with huge smiles and words of love and belonging. I knew she’d be fine. She came home every afternoon brimming with happiness, excited to tell me about everything she did.
My daughter also participated in Free Arts’ Theater Camp this summer. She comes from a culture where oral storytelling and performance are common, and she happens to have a beautiful singing voice and a fascination with poetry. This two-week camp was the highlight of her summer–perhaps of her year. She came home each day saying the camp was “very good” … “They love me,” she would say with a smile.
I had no idea what kind of performance pieces she was preparing and was floored by the show on June 30. I sat there in the packed auditorium, next to my husband and with at least 15 other family members and friends there to support her, and all I could think was how proud her mom and dad would be of her. She presented a poem and sang a solo–both original pieces straight from her heart. I wish they could have seen their precious girl shining her light for the world to see; it was something beautiful to behold.
Another thing I learned that night of the performance is that teenage foster kids are not to be feared! They have such a bad reputation, and it’s not fair, nor is it grounded in truth. Whom I saw on stage and whose stories I heard were talented, promising children desperate for love, belonging, and security. Free Arts provides these things, even if for only brief stints, and that message is so important for everyone to hear.
Free Arts tells children discarded by society the truth–that they’re immensely valuable, gifted with potential, and able to flourish in this life despite their present circumstances. The word “hope” has become a cliche for most people, I think, but to these kids, it really carries power, thanks to the Free Arts staff and volunteers.
This morning, my daughter wore one of her Free Arts t-shirts to school, as she often does, despite having a lot of other shirts to choose from. She wears the bracelets she earned at Free Arts camp, and she displays in her room the loving cards written for her by Free Arts staff and volunteers. I can’t read her mind, but I can tell from her behavior and words that her experiences with Free Arts this summer were life changing. She’s just starting a new life here in America, and Free Arts has given her invaluable lessons on who she is and who she can become. Thank you so much for providing a safe space–especially safe people–for her to work through her deep trauma and find healing and hope. Even her future generations will reap the rewards.