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Art Therapy and Counseling Student Presents Community Project with Red Shield Family Residence

June 25, 2015

Megan Abbot, MA candidate in Art Therapy and Counseling, led children at the Red Shield Family Residence in a community engagement endeavor. The result was “Our Town,” an art project that gave them a platform to talk about their home in Philadelphia.

Given the task of going into a community and collaborating with participants to gauge what needs and desires they have and how to work toward those goals through art, Abbot immediately saw an opportunity to work with Red Shield Family Residence. This Philadelphia-based family shelter is one of the only shelters in the City that accepts all family configurations. “I knew I wanted to partner with them. I loved what they are doing and wanted to find a way to support,” said Abbot.

The children at Red Shield Family Residence who not only inspired the project, but decided its direction. “I had a workshop with the kids, offering painting, drawing and building stations, to see what materials they wanted to use. I observed them and gave them choices based on what I saw,” said Abbot. She also noted the frequency in which the topic of houses and homes came up in their conversations. “That’s a big theme, especially in these kids who have come from homelessness.” The children voted between building an animal, a town or a house, ultimately landing on building the town that would become “Our Town.”

“It gave them flexibility with each person building a part of the community, a part of the town, so they could build a house if they wanted to do that, but it would be working toward building this town. That’s part of the process of giving these kids some choice in picking the project,” said Abbot.

Abbot’s role over the eight weeks spent with the children building the project was to give them the tools and support they needed. Upon completion, it became a springboard for discussion – to further explore what they learned and what they do and do not like about their community.

“Our Town” was presented to the public on May 20, but has since had two additional exhibitions. The kids came for their own private viewing, and the project was incorporated into the Fairmount Community Art Festival to help raise funds for Red Shield Family Residence.

The goal was to show the resilience and creativity of the kids, but the impact went beyond that. Abbot said, “It brought a larger discussion of reflecting on community – mainly Philadelphia communities – and how different people perceive and experience it. I think people have perceptions about children who have experienced trauma and homelessness, and what people see when they see the artwork is that it’s a fun and inventive project that speaks to these kids’ strengths. That’s what I wanted people to take away and that’s what I believe people are seeing.”