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Teen creates 175 art kits for children to learn about Picasso, Impressionism

Gwen Jones, 17, recently put together 150 art

Gwen Jones, 17, recently put together 175 art kits and donated them to the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center in Roslyn Heights. Her hope is that children can use art as an outlet to express themselves, just like she did throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Howard Schnapp: Photo credit: Peter M. Budraitis Photography

While stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, 17-year-old Gwen Jones got creative. Painting, drawing, making collages — she’d routinely pick up supplies at a Michael’s craft store, and create masterpieces in her bedroom.

"It’s a fun way to relax," said Gwen, of Locust Valley. "It’s almost like a therapy, to sit down and do some artwork."

Gwen wanted children on Long Island to have the same opportunity to unwind and express themselves creatively. They just needed the supplies to do it.

So once again heading to Michael’s, Gwen bought watercolor paints, paintbrushes, colorful pencils, markers, paper and yarn. She's assembled 175 art kits and donated them to the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center in Roslyn Heights, a not-for-profit children’s mental health agency.

Gwen made four different versions of the kit, distributing the supplies where they each fit. The "watercolor and Impressionism kit" contained a lesson plan on painter Claude Monet and a brief history of Impressionism. The "mixed medium kit" had a picture of an owl to be colored in and an inspirational quote.

The "collage kit" included facts on artist Pablo Picasso. The most recent kit she's made contained a canvas, acrylic paint, a paint brush, painter's tape and a Sharpie pen, so that kids can create geometric shapes.

"I remember coloring as a kid was so much fun to do in art class," said Gwen. Now, she prefers collaging and painting.

"I wanted to merge both what I liked to do when I was younger, and what I like to do now, and make it good for the younger age group," she said.

When she first started putting the kits together, Gwen envisioned giving them to children. When she was done, she realized that may not be her only audience.

"Really, any age could do it," she said. "Any age could have fun with this."

The North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center serves clients from birth to age 24, according to its website. It provides services that address mental health for children and their families throughout Nassau County, said Lauren McGowan, the director of development. That includes programs on suicide prevention, depression and anxiety, specifically geared toward youth.

Dr. Sue Cohen, the director of early childhood and psychological services, is excited for her clients in particular to use the art kits. Her young clients don’t always have the words to communicate their emotions — that’s where art comes in, Cohen said. Anger can be expressed by scribbling, and fear by drawing what the monster under the bed looks like.

"We use art as a therapeutic tool," she said. "It’s a great icebreaker to begin to establish rapport with children."

Cohen added that the art kits arrived at a perfect time for the center: the clinicians had just begun to discuss a safe transition back to in-person therapy sessions and interactive programs, including details such as how to keep crayons and markers clean.

"These individual kits [Gwen] made are perfect because each kit has their own pens, markers and paints," Cohen said. "As the kids are coming in, they can have a bag designated with their own art supplies, and they can keep them in the office for continued use or take it home."

McGowan said she’s "delighted" that Gwen has taken initiative and was thoughtful in her approach to helping the center.

"It’ll help our clinicians to communicate better, because kids will open up as they start to feel comfortable and as they’re drawing," she said. "Art is another modality they can have in their own toolbox, so she’s really given us a gift in that way."

Gwen dropped off 150 art kits on April 8, and 25 more on April 29. This was a labor of love for her — as she carefully crafted each kit, she said she daydreamed of the moment that she would finally donate them and offer children the same creative outlet that’s helped her through the pandemic.

"Finally getting to hand them over was so exciting," she said. "I’m excited to be making some more."

She's still brainstorming ideas for different art kit themes. McGowan said Gwen's motivation aligns with the center’s mission to help children in need.

But Gwen’s biggest hope is that children will see that you don’t necessarily have to be a great artist to create something beautiful.

"I hope that younger kids can realize that everybody can be creative and everybody can have fun with art," Gwen said. "It’s not such a serious thing; you can do whatever you want. It’s something anyone can do and have fun with."

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