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My Illuminations daily calendar combines Saturday and Sunday on one page, so I’m planning to use my Sunday blogposts to show off my current drawing projects. This way, you’ll see what I’m working on now (which is so very different from the work in the calendars) at least once a week.

Since we are in the last phase of our current YouthBuild grant, I wanted to start doing portraits of first, the staff, and then of each of the sixty-two students we have served over the course of this grant cycle. Working with the staff and students is one of the great joys of my daily life. We are a family, we look out for each other, we celebrate our victories, we mourn our losses, and we do it together.
Indirectly, it was YouthBuild (actually, the NY Department of Education) that got me drawing again, when we lost one of our GED teachers, Nicoletta, to LaGuardia’s GED+ program. She and Jay, our other GED teacher, had shared their office for YEARS, and overnight, she was whisked away to Long Island City. I got it in my head that it would make Jay less lonely if he could look over at Nicoletta’s desk and see her sitting in her chair, even if she wasn’t there. I took a regular #2 pencil and a large piece of light cardboard I had and did the first portrait I have done in at least 25 years, maybe longer.

Nicoletta, our former GED teacher

Nicoletta, our former GED teacher (or, where it all began again)

Jay was truly touched, and other staff and students really liked the drawing– which sparked me to want to do more.

That’s when I started doing all the self-portraits, and I started buying art supplies again; and then I decided I wanted to teach drawing to our students, so I started FLY~B Art workshops on Friday afternoons. Then, I thought it would be great to expand the classes into something more comprehensive, with visiting artists and museum trips, so I took grant-writing workshops at The Foundation Center and Queens Council for the Arts, and wrote my first grant application (but not my last–I have plans, BIG plans). Our students are so hungry for the opportunity to express themselves through art– not just visual arts, but music, and poetry, and dance.

Why SHOULDN’T GED programs, or YouthBuild, or Y Roads include an art component? THEY SHOULD. It’s good for learning. There’s a lot of current neuroscientific research supporting the idea that the arts help with memory and with learning; the arts certainly keep students engaged. The simple act of drawing focuses attention, improves eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. And, it’s FUN! And then when you’re finished, you have ARTWORK to exhibit! And when other people like your work, it feels GOOD!! Imagine what an hour or two of drawing a couple of times a week could do for the legions of disconnected youth who need to build a life. All it would cost is time, and pencils, and paper.
This work is the most important I’ve ever done, and I’m always looking for a way to make it even better. I love our students, and I am so proud of their successes.
So that’s why this post is about love and work, work and love. And art, and my students, and the wonderful, wonderful people I work with every day, changing lives one young person at a time.

Oh, and to return to my point of departure, which was my current drawing project: let me introduce you to the staff of Flushing YMCA Youthbuild, my coworkers, my friends, my second family.
Here they are!

Donal, our Director

Donal, our Director

Farrah, our Counselor

Farrah, our Counselor

Me, the Office Manager

Me, the Office Manager

Brandon, our Vocational Instructor

Brandon, our Vocational Instructor

Chris, our Construction Trainer (and 2012 grad)

Chris, our Construction Trainer (and 2012 grad)

Lesly, our Career and College Developer

Lesly, our Career and College Developer

Jay Rosenberg, our GED+ teacher

Jay Rosenberg, our GED+ teacher

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