Two years ago, junior studio art psychology major Dani Kepner met junior human development and family science major Ally Morgret in their CCC class. Their professor split the class into groups of five to find things the students had in common with each other. Kepner and Morgret happened to be in the same group, and both discussed their love of art.
“We just kind of connected and then she (Kepner) said ‘I know this is kind of crazy but would you be interested in starting an art program with me?’ Morgret says. “And I was like ‘yeah, sure.’ It was the craziest first day of class, but it was great.”
Kepner and Morgret went on to create Art Beyond the Classroom (ABC), an arts-based program offering creative expression intervention services. Currently, the program is in place at Hershey Children’s Hospital, but the ABC team is looking at expanding to more locations.
“I thought the hospital would be a perfect place and I know that a lot of art therapists do target hospitals. I looked into Hershey Children’s Hospital – they don’t have an art therapist, but they have a music therapist, therefore, it was a perfect location for ABC to intervene with their arts-based educational program,’” Kepner explains.
At the hospital, ABC team members wheel an “art cart” from room to room, asking children if they want to do an activity. The art projects range from painting and drawing to playing with clay.
“I hope that it allows them to express themselves in a way that they don’t get to on a daily basis,” Morgret says. “I’m sure being in the hospital in the same room every day is probably really draining, and I just hope that ABC gives them life and something to look forward to.”
However, working with children in a hospital is not without its emotional challenges. Both Kepner and Morgret say it’s important to maintain a separation between their personal lives and the work they do at the hospital.
“I don’t usually have a problem with separating myself from difficult situations,” Kepner says. “Obviously seeing children in the hospital is very difficult and usually I’m okay with that. But I’m not perfect; I’m human, so every once in a while I do attach myself to a child I work with, and I feel for them outside of the hospital. But again, those relationships have changed my life, so I love it, it’s just sometimes that can be really difficult.”
“I feel like if I left and took all the pain that they are experiencing with me, then I wouldn’t be able to serve them as well,” Morgret echoes.
Despite the emotional toll, Morgret and Kepner both say their lives would not be the same without ABC.
“I think without ABC I would be passionate about something without any grounding for why I’m passionate about it,” Kepner says. “But because of ABC, I understand why God has put this on my heart and how it can make an impact.”
ABC’s team is planning to continue the program’s impact on a larger scale. The program just gained five new members who will spread out between three locations.
“We’d have two people at one place and three people at another,” Morgret says. “And we’re hoping that we would go to a church setting or a divorce care setting or autism schools.”
ABC is also currently in the running for Impact Venture Challenge. A win for the program would mean an additional $5,000 to use toward the expansion, and more money to touch hearts.
“The best part is leaving and just knowing that you gave it your all,” Morgret says. “Just going to one child and teaching one child means more than anything.”
To learn more about ABC, visit https://artbeyondtheclassroom.wordpress.com.