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Project Background

Renaissance Village Teens at Idyllwild Arts Academy – July 2006

By Kathy Harmon-Luber, Director of Development, Idyllwild Arts Academy

Eleven Renaissance Village Teens are granted scholarships to a two week program at Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild, California.

All of us here at Idyllwild Arts Summer Program have been deeply touched by the participation of the children from the Renaissance Village, which the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s very generous support has made possible. Their enthusiasm was thrilling to see!

This experience seemed to open up a whole new world for them and gave them the opportunity to blossom. Many of the children said to our art therapists at the conclusion of our time together, that they had no idea previously what they were capable of artistically. It helped them to discover what they indeed could be.

They say that you have to see that a different life is possible before you can create change in your life. Most important of all, here, they saw that there is another way of living. These children have seen what could be possible for them. They have hope. What an incredible gift you have given them!

Although they all live in Renaissance Village, these children were so isolated there that, prior to coming to Idyllwild, they didn’t even know each other. Now they are new friends. What’s more, they’ve met people from other countries and all over our own country. Arriving here somewhat withdrawn, they had an invaluable experience of engaging with total strangers, and learned to trust.

Perhaps the very best measure of the impact of their time here is the art they created. You may recall that, at the art therapy classes they attended at Renaissance Village, their art tended to be dark, sad and clearly processing feelings of trauma and loss. At the end of their two weeks at Idyllwild Arts, their art demonstrates hope and happiness. I have enclosed photographs of the children engaging in art projects and with their finished artwork. You’ll see a joyful ballerina, a lighthouse and big rainbow, sunshine on mountains and trees. One child painted hearts, with the words “love”, “happy.” Another remarkable painting is “New 9th Ward New Orleans,” full of bright sunny color and hope. In addition to painting and drawing, they made paper mache masks and sculptures, gourd carving, computer animation and more. On their final night in Idyllwild, there was an art exhibit of their work. The children were just beaming and so pleased with all they had accomplished, and proud to show off their artwork.

Keep in mind that, back home at Renaissance Village, many of the children never got up until the afternoon. Driven by their enthusiasm for the art, they responded well to the structured schedule here. Counselors reported that the youngsters set their alarm clocks for 6:00 am, so that they could have a good breakfast and go to class at 9:00. They didn’t want to miss a minute of their art instruction!

Our art therapists, Karla Leopold and Lesly Van Sloten were just fabulous with the youngsters. Lesly, in fact, was here every moment of the day, attending the classes with the children, helping them to process their new emotions, taking them on field trips, listening to their fears and frustrations and hopes and dreams and more. She clearly had earned their respect while working with them while in Baton Rouge, and so this transition to Idyllwild happened much more seamlessly than any of us expected it would. Naturally, there were challenges, and when a couple of the children faced difficulties and confrontations, Lesly was right there to help them work through it.

So what I’m saying is, your vision of this project, specifically the addition of the full-time art therapy component, was the key that made this entire experience so vitally rewarding for these children. We thank you for proposing that facet of this work, and providing the support that enabled it to be included.

In addition to the art workshops, we filled their time here with lots fun activities: a Sunday afternoon hike and journal writing at Lake Hemet; a mile-long walk into our village of Idyllwild to see “Pirates of the Caribbean II” at our local theater (tickets donated personally by the theatre owners); and a barbeque dinner hosted at our art therapist Karla Leopold’s neighbor’s home and tag football afterwards. Every afternoon as I left the office and walked to my car parked beside the swimming pool, it did my heart good to see the kids frolicking in our pool. By the look of it, I think it must have been one of the highlights of their days! Over the summer we had a wonderful intern from Claremont McKenna College, Maria Paredes, who accompanied Lesly and the children on the outings, took photographs, guided the hikes, obtained the theatre ticket donation, encouraged the youngsters to pursue their arts and more.

The children all told us that they want to come back next summer. As you can imagine, their departure was painful for them and very tearful as they boarded the vans to take them to the airport. We all wished that we could have kept them here longer. Karla Leopold and Lesly van Sloten will be going back to Baton Rouge again August 22 through 30 to continue to help the children with their transition. Our headmaster’s wife, Carolyn Lowman, was so taken by the children, that she will be joining Karla and Lesly on this trip, to help with the art therapy classes.

We are so pleased that three students, all 9th graders, want to attend the Academy this fall. On their last day here, they picked up their applications and talked to our Admissions staff. If they follow through and submit their applications and are accepted, we’ll seek scholarships so that we can make this life changing experience possible for them.

It has been delightful working with you. Again, on behalf of everyone here at Idyllwild Arts, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your caring generosity!

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