Creative outlet gives voice to Heartspring students
The room is set up with two long tables and eight chairs along one side. Eight students sit peering up at a gentle woman with her hair pulled back in a bun. She makes eye contact with each one of them and explains in a soft, calm voice what the activity for this week will be.
It is Thursday morning and Ruthie Spriggs has the room prepared for the weekly art class. “Today we are going to make texture boards,” she explains. Each student will have the opportunity to pick through sorted boxes of strings, beads and fabric remnants. They will apply the items to a large area of adhesive.
Ruthie is in her 16th year as a volunteer to Heartspring. She is employed by a local arts organization, City Arts, but comes to Heartspring once a week and leads an art class for the students in Heartspring School.
“About seven years ago, when I was hired at City Arts, I asked to continue my Thursday morning visits to Heartspring. They were really supportive of that,” said Ruthie.
She has a quiet way about her that seems soothing, yet is so full of energy that it is easy to see why art is an activity that many of the students look forward to.
“I try and always pick a project that focuses on communication. I want the kids to interact with different mediums and explore textures and stimulate all the senses. Sometimes I also try and pick activities that will push them to go outside of their comfort area.” Ruthie explains that some of the students have aversions to certain things, like getting their hands dirty or always having things lined up in a perfect line. “Choosing an activity that might be a challenge to some of them is a way to expose them to different situations and teach them coping skills.”
Ruthie has had to be resourceful when keeping supplies stocked for the students, relying on members of the community to gather things that they feel might be useful to the class. She has also been fortunate to receive donations which she uses to purchase materials.
“(Artist) Charles Shoemaker was a former student at the Institute for Logopedics, when he died his wife donated money from his estate especially for the art program. I was able to make that last a long time. Then just last fall, the Cultural Arts Council presented a check that I was able to use to purchase many supplies,” she said.
One of the first purchases Ruthie made was a sketch book and pencils, markers, erasers and pens for each student. She said that having one for each student would allow them to continue their artwork even when she was not there.
“What happened was the students were able to have the sketchbook as an option for their leisure activities in the classroom. It was really neat to see how they each chose to use their sketchbook.”
There is no question as to what a tremendous impact Ruthie has had on the students. Evidence of their artwork is easy to spot walking down the hallways. Displaying their creations is something Ruthie feels is meaningful to the students.
“When the kids see their artwork on the bulletin board or along the windows, that makes them feel they are part of a community or group - that they belong, and that is so important to give them that.”
As the class winds down for the week Ruthie stands in a room now empty of students, but what she is left with is a room full of masterpieces that can be shared with anyone who enters Heartspring. She is also left knowing that once again, even if for a short time, she has touched the life of a child and allowed them to bring something out that otherwise might have not been shared.
“For some of these kids, they will never communicate with words, but they are all able to express themselves through art. This gives us an idea of what is going on in their minds.”
Volunteering is a wonderful way to learn more about Heartspring and the services that we provide to children with special needs. There are individual and group opportunities for volunteering. This time can be used to earn service hours for school, learn more about a possible profession or just give back to the community. Corporations also have the opportunity to support Heartspring, both monetarily as well as by volunteering. Make a difference in the life of a child by volunteering today. Complete an individual or group volunteer application, or contact our volunteer office for more information.