For eight years we ran a very successful program in San Francisco for current and former foster teens and young adults. Classes met once a week through the school year to focus on photography and creative writing. At first they met in a community center and moved from classroom to darkroom. When digital photography became affordable and came to dominate the photography world, the classes moved to a computer lab. As the students explored their inner and outer worlds through images, they also read and wrote—stories, poems, and essays. They learned the power of the spoken word as they shared their writing and critiqued their own and each others’ work. Over months of shared experiences the students built strong bonds with each other and with the group.
Everyone agreed that this program was wildly successful. In the process of learning about art the students also learned about themselves, built confidence and self-esteem, and developed important relationships. In that format, we could only reach a few students each year. For years we tried unsuccessfully to figure out how we could replicate it in other communities. Then the Internet came to the rescue! By creating online courses we could make this wonderful program available to anyone with Internet access—not just a handful of foster youth in one city in the country. Of course, there are differences, but the essence of that program—using images and creative writing to promote emotional well-being and build relationships—has been preserved. We have created two new online trainings for our Special Topics Series, xxxx and two new companion decks of Conversation Cards, “Lost and Found” and “Word Power.”
I’m very excited today to release “Using Images for Self-Expression,” created and taught by Amanda Herman, who taught the Fostering Art Program for many years. Amanda is a professional photographer with an MFA in Social Practice. She has taught art to wide range of students, including adults with disabilities, graduate students at California College of the Arts and currently undergraduates at Smith College. The activities suggested in this course reflect Amanda’s acute awareness of the very wide range of resources available to those working in schools, community centers, group homes, and agencies, and other programs serving children and youth.
The companion deck, “Lost and Found,” guides participants on storytelling scavenger hunts. These are great activities that spark really interesting conversations about losing, keeping, searching, finding, etc. Every story is different—depending on the group, the cards they select, the environment, and the images they choose. And—they’re fun!
Keep your eyes open for the launch of the next online training to grow out of Fostering Art, “The Healing Power of Words,” created and taught by Amy Kaufman Burk. Amy holds a Doctorate in Mental Health and, in her first career, saw adolescents and adults in psychotherapy—work she loved. When a move took her family from California to North Carolina, she turned to another passion—writing young adult fiction and teaching writing to high school students. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve the Honorable, explores homophobia among high school students. We are thrilled that she has offered her talents to A Home Within for this wonderful course to help those of us who are not creative writers, learn how we can help children and youth put their ideas and feelings into words in ways that can help them heal from the large and small hurts in life.
“Word Power,” the companion deck of Conversation Cards offers an abundance of ideas for getting children and youth involved in writing creatively about their ideas and feelings. Importantly, the cards give prompts for thinking about how words can help to make hard feelings easier. And, even if what they are writing about isn’t always pleasant, children and youth can learn that the process of writing can be fun—and very satisfying.
We all go through changes. We are both the same and different as we move through life. So it is with Fostering Art. It was wonderful in its first format. Trite though it may be, I think of it as a wonderful caterpillar that lived for a while in San Francisco and is now spreading its butterfly wings throughout the Internet. I do hope that you will use, enjoy, and gain from what we have learned in this transformation.
By Toni Heineman