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Alexandra KnightAlexandra Knight

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What is ArtBridge?

ArtBridge is a nonprofit organization that serves homeless and at-risk children through therapeutic and expressive art lessons.

How did ArtBridge start?

ArtBridge was founded after Jo Ann Williams, a certified art therapist, had a patient who was abandoned by his parents at a psychiatric hospital. She was concerned for the little boy, especially after he was discharged to a nearby homeless shelter. Jo Ann began visiting him week after week with her art supplies in tow. She was astonished at how many children were in similar need and began reaching out to homeless shelters throughout the city.

Where does ArtBridge hold sessions?

ArtBridge classes are currently held at A Friendly Haven, Covenant House, DePelchin, Harris County Psychiatric Hospital, Houston Area Women's Shelter, Mission of Yahweh, Star of Hope Emergency Shelter, and Star of Hope Transitional Living Center.

How does one volunteer for ArtBridge?

Volunteers register with ArtBridge through our website. They make a semester long commitment to attend an art class in a shelter once a week. Volunteers are a wonderful resource to ArtBridge, and we could not fulfill our mission without them!

What does ArtBridge need most right now?

ArtBridge is most in need of "unrestricted" funds. We are growing tremendously and would love to be able to expand our services where needed through general fund donations. We are also looking for additional community partners in order to serve more homeless youth in the Houston area. If you know of a location where we could be of service, please let us know!

Tell us about how ArtBridge has made a difference in children's lives.

For many of our children, they may only attend one or two ArtBridge classes before leaving a homeless shelter to go to the next shelter. We therefore strive to make a therapeutic impact each and every week. Our curriculum helps children cope with the anxieties that arise from homelessness. We foster a safe, nurturing environment that allow the children's troubles to subside, even if only for that one hour of class. ArtBridge believes that the process is far more important than the finished product.

Many times the struggles that emerge for our children supersede even our best planned therapeutic and expressive arts based curriculums.

One such story evolved when an instructor led a class about "future pets". She was attempting to bring inspiration and forethought to the children's future goals. Would they have a home of their own when they grew up? A pet? A yard for them to play in? What emerged, however, were personal stories of loss regarding previously owned pets. You see, homeless children don't just leave a house behind. They leave their books, toys, neighbors, schools, family members, and often times, beloved pets. ArtBridge allowed each child that day to share their pet's story and the sadness that was felt when leaving them behind. They were able to cope with their loss and in turn, begin thinking about a brighter future.

Any new projects ArtBridge is working on?

ArtBridge is always looking for new ways to get involved with Houston's homeless population. We have recently partnered with The Neartown Experiment to bring an expressive arts collaboration project to Covenant House. We offer evening entertainment to teens living in this shelter. They are able to choose: Do I want to learn to play the guitar tonight or maybe try painting on a canvas? This special project keeps teens off the street at night and provides an inspirational environment to try something new.

What inspires you about ArtBridge?

So many things. Knowing that we are making a difference in children's lives inspires me the most. It is my true desire that all children, and all people for that matter, feel loved, supported, and validated for who they are. I guess that desire is the teacher in me, and love is one of the few things in life that is free to give. It is just so important to build and have a sense of community in our lives.

I like to think that the ArtBridge classes are helping the children feel what it means to be part of a safe and healthly community. The work I do for ArtBridge is purely for the sake of the children. Through ArtBridge, we are able to plant a tiny seed of hope and create awareness for the children that there is another way. It inspires me to see how happy the children are when they see us coming. Their smiles are genuine and their eyes sparkle with joy, even in the despair of homelessness.

What is your background?

I grew up in Houston and always thought I would live elsewhere after college. After living in Mexico for a year, I made the difficult decision to move home because my grandfather had been diagnosed with Lymphoma. He always loved and supported me in a way that I can still feel today 25 years later, and he provided me with many exciting educational experiences that have molded who I am today. Knowing that he would soon die, I wanted to give back to him what he had so graciously given to me. It was also during that time that I decided to go back to school and become a teacher.

I'm not sure I fully knew it then, but today it is what I feel called to do and it has provided me with a purpose for my life. I always tell my students that I hope they learn as much from me as I learn from them. My students and the children at ArtBridge help me understand the bigger picture of life. They inspire me to slow down, reflect, and think about what I can do to make the world a more positive place.

One thing that people might not suspect about me is my desire to write songs and be a musician. My husband surprised me with a guitar last year, so at least I am closer getting started. It is amazing the things that hold us back from realizing our dreams! The second thing that close friends know about me, but others might not suspect is that I am a diehard baseball fan and love the Astros, win or lose!

What is ArtBridge and why do we love it so much?

Ever since I was a little girl I have always wanted to be an art therapist. I went to one as a child and have always held such admiration for them. I never carried that dream out but when I heard about ArtBridge in Houston my interest was peeked.

Not only do I admire the amazing work ArtBridge does, but I also find the work so fulfilling and a bridge to my life where I could help make a small difference because what really makes me smile from the inside out is helping others and giving back.

The children I have worked with through ArtBridge touch your soul and watching them transform and have an escape of their problems for an hour through art is amazing. I have seen it first hand make a huge difference in achieving hope, promise and understanding with at-risk youth. I am thrilled to be a volunteer for ArtBridge and welcome the weekly escape from the luxury world of exotic skin accessories.

I originally created Style File to highlight what I love and am passionate about and molding today's youth and offering them expression through art is at the top of the list. I invite you with this post to find that lost passion of yours or "wish I had been" one day dream and connect with it through donating your time and working with others. It is beyond rewarding and soul filling.

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