IDAHO — Idaho Parents Unlimited's Art Education program, in partnership with the Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition, expanded to Juvenile Detention Centers in Idaho.
The art program, led by Idaho Parents Unlimited Art Coordinator Heather Kirk Skinner, provides education in schools statewide for kids with disabilities to ensure art inclusion for all youth.
For seven to eight weeks, a local artist teaches various art techniques to different groups of youth at Nampa's Juvenile Detention Center and Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center.
"It gives the kids a way to express themselves in a way that isn't possible with just words," said local artist Heather Bee. "You know when you are looking at a piece of art, you can't necessarily describe everything that is going on in there, but it certainly brings emotions and responses."
Bee is currently helping a group at the Nampa Center make travel journals.
"They're not traveling currently in the Juvenile Detention Center, but it's really more of a metaphor of traveling," said Bee. "What did they do to get to this point, reflecting on where they are now, and moving forward what they envision for their lives."
That art helps give them hope for the future, no matter what their situation is.
"One of the kids doesn't have a home to go to when she gets out. But, she said art is my home, and nobody can take that away from me, and she's an incredibly talented artist," said Bee.
She said that even though she is there to teach the kids about art, it's the human connection she builds that matters more.
"We laugh a lot. There's just a lot of real connection and rapport, and I feel like the connection piece is the biggest deal for me," said Bee. "We could be talking about toads on a log, it doesn't really matter. It's about them feeling like they are heard and that someone is listening," said Bee.
Idaho's ATC knew the program was something they wanted to get involved with.
"Just gaining trusting relationships with youth, especially those that might not have been given an opportunity to learn about art education and in our case, it is really reaching those who are at risk for human trafficking or who have not yet been identified," said Idaho ATC Executive Director, Jennifer Zielinski.
A partnership between two organizations that are invested in helping our youth and trying to remove the stigma around incarcerated youth.
"It will lead to positive outcomes. It not only gives them an opportunity to see the value in themselves through beautiful art but also that there are people out there who can support them and especially help develop goals, dreams, and opportunities.
Expression through art is giving these youth new opportunities and outlooks on life.
"There may be a reason someone is incarcerated, but this is highlighting that they deserve a new outlook on life. They deserve new opportunities, and even as programs, what can we do better to prevent them from being incarcerated, and I know this program as it is evolving is really going to create opportunities for youth," said Zielinski.
The program also helps the youth transition out of the detention centers back into our community.
"They have gone through what most people won't experience in their life, and they are taking what they have learned and are moving ahead in a really beautiful way," said Bee.
"Art creates a voice for those that may not have ever had a voice," said Zielinski.
The program is funded by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, State Department of Education, and the Idaho Commission on the Arts.