By Kelly Medinger
Art with a Heart uses arts and humanities grant to prepare formerly homeless youth for the workplace
Fifteen new employees – all formerly homeless youth – are seated in an art studio for their new job orientation. “This is not just about making art. It’s about job readiness,” says the orientation director. She explains that they will be learning many different artistic techniques throughout their employment, but if they are late for work by only ten minutes, they will not get paid that day. “Punctuality is important on the job, and docking your pay may seem harsh, but at least you keep your job.”
About Art with a Heart
Founded in 2000, Art with a Heart provides classes in visual arts to underserved Baltimore area children, youth, and adults. Their mission is to enhance the lives of people in need through visual art.
Part of Art with a Heart’s programming includes the Youth Entrepreneurship Program, which employs cohorts of youth in the spring, summer, and fall to create marketable art to sell in Art with a Heart’s retail store, HeARTwares. Youth complete a variety of art projects, such as designing table and chair sets in teams and learning other artmaking skills like wire and beading, wood burning, ceramics, and mosaics.
Teaching Soft Job Skills
In 2015, the Knott Foundation supported the Youth Entrepreneurship Program’s expansion from summer to year-round programming. This has not only grown the number of youth participating, it has also helped 83% of older youth working in the spring and fall cohorts to secure part-time or full-time employment after completion of the program.
Moreover, by partnering with Youth Empowered Society, a drop-in center for youth age 14-25 experiencing homelessness, Art with a Heart is able to engage at-risk teens and young adults in the HeARTwares space for a real job experience. The youth make marketable art for the store and help run the retail operations.
“Often this may be their first work experience,” mentions Christina Ralls, Director of Workforce Development and Social Enterprise for Art with a Heart, “so we’re all about teaching soft job skills they will need now and in the future.”
Overcoming Barriers to Success
“Art with a Heart is one of the most effective workforce development programs for youth in Baltimore City,” proclaims Maia Gibbons, Workforce Development and Education Coordinator for Youth Empowered Society.
“Many programs focus on hard skills such as learning a trade or teaching how to format a resume, but fall short on the soft skills development that our youth need – social skills, time management, conflict resolution, and communication skills,” explains Gibbons. By employing compassionate and committed educators to lead and mentor the youth, Art with a Heart creates a consistent connection with them and helps instill habits that translate into other areas of life.
“The artmaking is therapeutic for our youth,” Ralls says. “All of them are hard workers. All of them want to work. But there are obstacles for them to even get to work. Art can help them process traumatic experiences and overcome those obstacles to become productive employees and leaders in their communities.”