A Buddy And A Unicorn

December 15, 2016

It’s four o’clock on a Thursday – the calm before the storm. My fellow creative professionals and I all sit quietly as we wait for our buddies to walk through the doors. We hear them before we see them; their loud, happy voices echoing down the hallway and their feet stomping, running and skipping.

Our buddies – a throng of twenty-some elementary schoolers – eventually arrive. The room is instantly filled with laughter and excited chatter as everyone gets settled in for the day’s session. It’s a two-hour whirlwind of being bombarded by bright colors, rummaging for fabric and the smell of hot-glue guns.

The crazy commotion I’m describing is an after-school program called Art Buddies. It’s a local nonprofit with the goal of empowering kids through creativity. The program pairs creative professionals with underprivileged children who may not have the opportunity to make art and express their creativity otherwise. Over the course of eight weeks, buddies design and build a costume together. Each mentor helps their buddy concept and create a costume that reflects the child’s unique interests, strengths and dreams. On the last day of the program, the kids get to show off their costumes in a parade around their school.

I first heard about Art Buddies three years ago at Design Camp, an AIGA design conference. Sue Crolick, one of my idols and the founder of Art Buddies, was a keynote speaker that year. I was so excited to learn about Art Buddies that I decided I would be a volunteer if I were to land a job in the Twin Cities after I graduated. Luckily, everything fell into place and I was able to get involved.

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This was my first long-term volunteering experience and it couldn’t have been more fun or fulfilling. I had the privilege of working one-on-one with Sophie, an eleven-year-old who was also participating in Art Buddies for the first time. We were hard at work these last few months designing and building her unicorn costume. It was during the very first session that Sophie came up with the idea of being a unicorn with a magical horn that has healing powers. (How cool is that?!)

Here’s Sophie, as a proud, glittery unicorn:

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While creating Sophie’s costume with her has been a fun and key part of the program, observing how my mentorship and friendship has impacted her has been a priceless experience. She went from being shy and quiet and not wanting to look at me that very first day, to running in, giving me hugs, and wanting to take selfies together.

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Tonight when I leave our very last session, no doubt covered in purple glitter and the wispy strands from hot glue guns, I’ll be sad to say goodbye, but my heart will be full knowing that I’ve made a difference. And…I’ll excitedly be awaiting the sign up for Art Buddy volunteers for next season.

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