Student's Senior Project Brings Art to Children

Published 05.05.2009

Human Services & Restorative Justice
Student News

To help instill pride and a sense of accomplishment, a Pennsylvania College of Technology student recently organized a series of art classes for children who are assisted by CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Lycoming County.

Applied human services student Jodie L. Kilmer, of Montoursville, completed an internship and a senior capstone project with the organization, which comprises four employees and 62 specially trained volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children in the courts.

As part of her senior project, Kilmer helped to organize a series of art classes for the children, culminating with a showing of their artwork at CASA's annual Leadership Dinner on April 16.

"Most of (the children) have experienced abuse or neglect, and I really noticed that there were a lot of common threads," she said. "There's very little social interaction; a lot of times they just don't get to be kids. They're really burdened with a lot of adult things, so I just really wanted to do something with them that was theirs."

Kilmer sent letters to CASA volunteers and asked them find out whether the children with whom they were working would be interested in participating in art classes.

"I got a pretty big response," she said. "I ended up with 11 children ages 4 to 10, and I had two young women who were 16 and 17."

The 4- to 10-year-olds met four Fridays in March in the James V. Brown Library's children's wing, where local artists Marguerite Bierman, Amanda Emig and Barbara Most helped them to complete a different project each week. The teens met with Victoria Thompson-Hess in her art studio, where they completed an interpretation tile project. Thompson-Hess later invited the two girls to continue art lessons in her studio for free, and both are enrolled in a class that will begin May 12.

Kilmer used the project to try to foster in the children a connection with the community and talked with the participants about using art as a coping mechanism and as a form of self-expression.

"They all seem to have low self-esteem; they don't have a lot of confidence, and it was all about building that inner strength with them," she said.

Each of the children was invited to the Leadership Dinner at DiSalvo's restaurant in Williamsport, where the artwork was displayed gallery-style on art panels borrowed from the Thomas T. Taber Museum. About 165 people attended the dinner, which was treated as the children's "opening night."

"One of the participants said it all when she said: "˜It was great because it wasn't about the adults; it was for the kids.' She was only 10 years old," Kilmer said. "I was just flabbergasted when she said that, because that was the whole idea."

Following the success of the program, she and CASA Director Judith L. Jones are considering offering similar programs to the participants, showcasing different talents each year.

Kilmer became a CASA volunteer in January 2008, soon after she learned about the program. In August, she began a 560-hour internship with the organization and is wrapping up both the internship and her capstone class in anticipation of graduating with a bachelor's degree this month. She was introduced to the program through another Penn College class Community and Organizational Change.

"One of our tasks was to observe three board meetings in a human service organization in the community," she said.

Kilmer chose the YWCA. During the first meeting she attended, she heard a lot of talk about CASA, but she did not know what it was. After researching the organization, she volunteered right away. She explained that caseworkers and lawyers assigned to abused and neglected children often are overwhelmed with a high number of cases and sometimes are not able to spend a lot of time with each child.

"So no one in the courtroom is really hearing what the child has to say, and that's why CASA is there," she said. "A CASA volunteer only has one case, so they can really focus on that case, and it helps immensely."

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