The Capital of Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The next time 14-year-old “Mary” gazes in the mirror, she’ll have the chance for some true

Expressions such as “smile now, cry never” and “be yourself,” along with the word “bright,” are painted on the wood
frame. There also are many smartly-colored designs.

Mary, not her real name, decorated the mirror earlier this week during a unique class at the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. The session was conducted through Rob Levit’s Creating Communities program, and is one of two offered in a partnership of the organizations.

The idea behind the classes is to allow children to grow through the arts. Levit mixes in not only painting, but music, poetry and dancing. The first group of eight weekly sessions began this fall, and another will kick off next month. Each class runs between 75 and 90 minutes.

“I really like (Levit’s) ability to connect with children,” said YWCA Executive Director Molly Knipe, who planned the
curriculum with him.

One of the classes consisted of middle school students in the YWCA’s S.T.A.R. — Students in Training for Academic Rewards — Academy, which provides assistance with social, academic and behavioral issues.

“It helps me get my artistic skill out more,” Mary said. “It helps me communicate with other people.”

The other session was for elementary and middle school-age children who are victims of domestic violence, which is why the YWCA requested the names of the students be withheld.

“It offers an additional chance for kids to express themselves,” said Pam Adderley, the YWCA’s counseling department
manager. “This program offers them a chance to become empowered again.”

A 13-year-old boy in the second session certainly feels that way. He looks forward to coming to class so much he watches the clock at home until it’s time to leave.

“It’s very fun and exciting to do creative stuff,” he said.”To be artistic is really cool. I’m energetic and stuff.”

His mother said her son is more focused and happier since he started the class. “And I get the best part, the finished
product,” she said, referring to the artwork he brings home.

The STAR session earlier this week began with some yoga-like exercises to get the students focused and then moved onto drumming.

This was a group activity intended to bolster teamwork.

The final part of the class involved painting the “affirmation mirrors.” Levit, who is assisted by volunteers, always has
multiple activities planned.

He began the affirmation exercise by asking the 12 students to describe their best qualities. After several replied with “funny” and one boy said “weird,” he asked them to think harder.

“I want you to dig a little deeper,” he said. `’Be thoughtful about this. Don’t rush. This is about you and your spirit.”
Some of the teens began to paint immediately anyway, while others, such as Mary, took considerable time before grabbing a brush. But all of them seemed to be enjoying the experience.

“This makes me feel good,” said a 12-year-old girl, who declared herself “bubbly” and painted a series of bubbles on top
of her mirror and “God bless all” on the bottom. “I can get my feelings out without people making fun of me.”

This jibes with Levit’s goal of creating a space where children can explore their emotions and foster their talents. “It gives them a safe place to talk about their lives and process their lives,” he said.

Although he wants the students to consider the exercises carefully, none are meant to be difficult. The idea is to teach
them activities they can repeat at home, or show other children.

“We try to give them a springboard to jump off on their own creativity,” Levit said. “My whole mission and purpose is to
demonstrate how the arts bring healing and understanding and a feeling of accomplishment.”
Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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