Volunteer Offers Art Sessions to Juveniles in Detention
Retired fourth grade teacher Judi Van Houweling always incorporated the arts into her lesson plans. For 26 years, her classroom at Tumalo Community School was one where acting, painting, drawing and crafting were central to learning.
One day, Debra Mae Fisher—an artist-in-residence at the school—encouraged Van Houweling to bring her love of the arts and teaching into her plans after retirement. Fisher shared with her the fulfilling experience of working with at-risk kids, thus sparking a 10-year journey of volunteer work with at-risk and incarcerated youth at Cascade Youth and Family Center, Court School and Juvenile Detention.
I’m inspired by them and I do believe that every one of these kids has something to offer. - Judi Van Houweling
Van Houweling makes no attempt to know how her students ended up in the facility as she conducts two-hour sessions about two times per month. There is no place or time for sequential art classes or long projects, so each session stands alone. Although, she does make a point to change up the medium often, in case she does have a repeat student. Yet, with so many changes to the children’s status, seeing a student more than once or twice becomes a rarity.
“Few people have looked at them with new eyes,” says Van Houweling. “No matter how tough they are, when you take something they’ve made and that they like and hang it on the wall (it means something)—they’ll even bring the guards over for some show and tell,” says Van Houweling.
It is unlikely that their previous art work in school was ever put on display in a positive light.
“Some of the kids don’t like to talk about stuff,” says Amber Knudsen, MSW, a Mental Health Specialist at the Deschutes County Juvenile Department. “Art can serve as an alternative way to express themselves so they feel safe. Judi takes time to listen, to teach—most don’t have that in their lives.”
“I think that your teaching is very helpful towards coping with problems and focusing on art instead,” says one of Van Houweling’s students.
At home, Van Houweling’s original artwork is juxtaposed with her students’ pieces. She explains the common thread as, “an assemblage of things that have been discarded and are now repurposed.”
Van Houweling wraps it all together by explaining, “the very thing that got them into the situation they’re in—an inability to follow the rules—is the very thing that makes them great artists. I’m inspired by them and I do believe that every one of these kids has something to offer.”