Kathy Kuhl works in home decor and accessory designs for her own company, Nelli Designs. She has been an Art Buddies volunteer for two years and has had the opportunity to serve as a mentor, Advisory Board member, and Events Committee Chair.
How would you describe Art Buddies to someone who has never heard of the program?
It's a creative mentoring program for underprivileged youth. Art Buddies matches mentors who are mainly creative professionals to work one-on-one with children on a creative/inspirational activity that helps enrich the child's life. But don’t kid yourself - you’ll walk away more enriched!
What has been your most memorable experience as an Art Buddy?
Hard to say, but maybe my first “buddy”, Giselle. I’m a dog lover, and my business is built around the love we have for our pets. So when Giselle said she wanted to be Princess of the Dogs, I knew we were a match made in heaven! We bonded instantly!
But then she got cold feet about wearing her costume and marching in the parade. I was able to work with the school counselor who works with Art Buddies, and we proposed to Giselle that we would just watch from the sidelines that day; no pressure to participate any further than she felt comfortable. On the last day, we watched the parade, the presentations, and all the kids having fun in their costumes.
Giselle finally turned to me and asked to see her finished costume I had made. A broad smile appeared - she loved it! In that minute, as soon as she put her costume on, everything changed for her. She was excited, she was grateful - she became lost in the sea of others dancing, laughing, and enjoying the moment.
I saw Giselle when I volunteered the following semester. She had overcome her shyness and was now in the school band and marching with her drums as part of the Art Buddies parade. When she saw me, her face lit up, and she ran to me, telling me she missed me, and I was still her buddy.
Why did you decide to become active with Art Buddies?
I love kids, and I believe in the power of creative learning. When I left my full-time job to start my own business, I finally had time to follow-up with Sue Crolick, who I had met years before. I believe in her mission and what she set out to accomplish by starting Art Buddies; I knew it was an organization I HAD to be a part of!
What advice would you give to rookie Art Buddies?
Be open to the possibilities before you work with Art Buddies. Be open to the other mentors you will meet, as you will gain many lasting friendships. And be open to your buddy and all he/she is - shy, excited, ambitious, methodical, or silly… Lose yourself in those moments, and you will find more of yourself.
Define what one-on-one mentoring means to you and how it can impact the lives of children.
One-on-one mentoring for me means to work alongside the child and help guide them where they want to go. Art Buddies is about working towards a goal, or a dream, and finding solutions to the obstacles that come up along the way - like how to make wings that actually flap, or determining what the cross between an alligator and a tiger looks like?
These are small challenges that gradually build the self esteem of the child, that will continue outside of Art Buddies - and hopefully for years to come.
How do you feel the after-school combination of creativity and mentoring help children with school work?
I think it helps with their overall self esteem and problem solving skills - but in a different format. With Art Buddies, kids are learning how to use math in measuring and figuring out sizing of their costumes; they are learning how common objects and materials can be re-purposed to build something extraordinary; they are diving into their imaginations and bringing their visions to life.
With their final results, they realize they have more abilities and know-how than they ever thought or gave themselves credit for. The success of Art Buddies is teaching these skills so that kids can move forward with greater confidence, and achieve greater successes.
Tell us about a unique or interesting experience with your Art Buddy that inspired you.
Probably my second buddy - Mariah. Mariah was bold, smart, ambitious, head strong and decisive. It was clear from her interactions with her friends that she was leader of the pack - not by being bossy, but by respectfully instilling a work ethic to use their time to work on costumes - not dance and be silly. She was clearly respected for this, and respectful of others around her. She had clear goals for herself of wanting to be a doctor one day. She explained her plan to me about college, about med school and working to pay for it so her mom wouldn’t have to work another job.
I grew up very fortunate - I didn’t have to worry about paying for college. While I had a plan for myself, it has never been as buttoned up as Mariah’s at age 11. Mariah inspired me to be more diligent with my own life plan; to be a better leader of my own destiny.
While you were sharing knowledge with your Art Buddy, did you ever find they were teaching you something equally important? If so, what?
Definitely. Mariah taught me the importance of focus; to focus on a goal and move toward it. You can get lost in a lot of dreams, but when I think of being focused, I think of Mariah.
Have you gained new friendships or expanded your network with adult Art Buddies during the program?
Absolutely! Especially working with the Advisory Board, and being Chair of Events. I have met so many great creative and entrepreneurial people that inspire me in my own business. And working with Scott and Stephanie has been wonderful - I have learned SO much about the world of non-profits working with them, that I have a new found respect for everything Sue did, and they continue to carry forward.
What are some of your favorite costume creations, and what inspired your Art Buddy to choose that costume?
Of course, “Princess of the Dogs” was a favorite of mine! It was fun to chat and share our love of dogs... that was an easy one to work on. And Mariah was “Princess of Peace” which was a lot of fun, and inspiring that she felt there was a need for such a princess in today’s world. We had a lot of fun concepting it together and bringing it to life - and then working on her presentation about what it meant to her, and the passion she had for a more peaceful world.
Art Buddies accepts mentor applications ever fall and spring. Learn how you can volunteer with Art Buddies at http://www.artbuddies.org/volunteer/.