As I occasionally fret about the larger and seemingly more intractable challenges facing our nation, I am often heartened by the hard work, progress, and ingenuity I witness demonstrated by community nonprofits. Driven by lean staff and volunteers, these modest enterprises face down challenges ranging from homelessness to mental illness and addiction, offering assistance, aid, and at the very least a thoughtful ear and warm, helping hand. Missions, resources, and staffing models vary, but I continue to be routinely touched as well as impressed by their passion and commitment to task, desire to help and improve others’ lives, and so often the selflessness and often low incomes which accompany doing this work.
We recently spent a beautiful, breezy fall afternoon learning and playing with a community arts organization, Paint Love, where they believe that art impacts everything. Paint Love aims most of its programs and efforts at helping and supporting children, including teen girls removed from sex trafficking, children fleeing domestic violence as well as referred from counseling centers for children facing abuse, homelessness and also including refugees and new immigrants. Founded in 2014, Paint Love has already connected with more than 15,000 unique and individual children, and recently relocated its studio to Legacy Park on Columbia Drive in Decatur, Georgia, on the campus of the former United Methodists Childrens’ Home, and across the street from Columbia Seminary.
“Art is our vehicle, but the soul of our work is showing children that their voice matters, that their ideas are important and that their actions can make a difference in shaping their future,” said Laura Shaw, Executive Director of Paint Love.
A small but diverse staff includes a licensed, clinical social worker, a certified yoga instructor and movement specialist as well as artists from a variety of disciplines. And not surprisingly, the organization also has an aptly named, Department of Kindness. During our visit, an artist named Antar Fierce, who began graphitizing his hometown of Brooklyn, NY in 1985, demonstrated for the children the right and wrong way to tag and use aerosol paints, the history of graffiti and its evolution into an art form, including massive murals in most major urban centers. Each class member was given a small canvas to work on, as well as allowed to contribute to a larger banner with the phrase Paint Love running from end to end.
My younger daughter, Olivia, and I happened to get to know Antar’s daughter, Debra, during the exhibition. Olivia found a new friend, and I had to smile as I watched Debra create two of her own two small pieces of art in graffiti...each reading...”Teasing is Mean” and “It’s NOT OK to Tease.” There was no prompting, messaging or a single suggestion made on what the children should paint, express or write...this is just what came from Debra’s paintbrush, and to some extent...from her heart.
The organization, like many other nonprofits, does more with less, recycles and reutilizes paint trays and other art supplies. Donations in kind are of course always welcome (https://www.gopaintlove.org/donate), but if you have some time, and could use a few more smiles on your face as well as in your heart, you might want to make an appointment and visit with the team at Paint Love or possibly volunteer. Paint Love community programs are open to the public and area residents as well, often at little or no cost - https://www.gopaintlove.org/community.
For me, it was a nostalgic afternoon. I was born at the end of the block, across the street on Inman Drive, behind Columbia Seminary. Our mother, Lynn Crane, volunteered for years with the United Methodist’s Childrens’ Home (1860-2014), particularly during their massive annual Thrift Sale and Flea Market, with booths spread for acres across the 77-acre campus. Originally founded as an orphanage, and later a foster-care group home, thousands of children, without parents or separated from their family for a period of years, called this place home. As Georgia moved away from the group home model during the 2000s, the population there began to dwindle, though a few adolescent residents still remain. The city of Decatur purchased and later annexed the property, which now abuts the city of Avondale Estates.
Olivia has already asked about a return visit, I’m hoping that we encounter not only more inspiring artists like Antar and our friend Hannah Rose Broom, but more kind-hearted children like Debra. Proof positive again that the little things really do matter and that they can collectively have a major impact on our world.
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