As brightly-colored crayons roll across the table into small energetic hands, children experience the love of Christ through the encouragement of student mentors smiling at their budding masterpieces.
ARTreach, a John Brown University CAUSE ministry, invites students to build relationships with the children of Colcord, Oklahoma through art projects, games and Bible devotionals. College students strive to create reliable connections with children through weekly meetings on Wednesday evenings from 4:00 p.m. to 6:20 p.m.
Megan Robinson, ARTreach co-leader and senior Christian ministry and intercultural studies double major, began volunteering during her freshman year and has seen the ministry’s impact expand. “We have about 25 to 30 total and then each week we might have only 10 or 22. It used to be like four when Art-Reach started so it’s grown a lot,” Robinson said.
While attendance has increased in number, children have experienced deficits in other areas outside of ARTreach classes. Following severe budget cuts, Oklahoma school districts are currently experiencing a mass teacher shortage, requiring the Oklahoma Board of Education to approve over 2,500 emergency teaching certificates, according to the Associated Press.
In an interview with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, one educator said, “Each Oklahoma City public school at the elementary level was forced to no longer have music or art. At my school, none of the students receive any art instruction.”
ARTreach fills the need not only for a creative outlet, but also as a safe and encouraging place for kids to have fun. “There’s a lot of poverty in the community, and so it’s a chance to have a consistent role in a kid’s life when they don’t always have a lot of consistency,” Robinson said. “For some of them, home is not a happy place to go back to. For some it is, but it’s not the same as doing VBS in your home church where all the kids are already in a Christian home. It’s a different situation. It’s really a chance to make an impact.”
Robinson encourages students from any major who love working with children to join ARTreach, regardless of their art skills. “It’s great for education majors because it’s kind of like being in a classroom. We try not to make it just like school because we want it to be more fun, but it’s definitely a chance to develop classroom management skills. It’s great for art students, of course, but you don’t have to have art skills … We’ve even had engineering students.”
Rissy Gates, freshman family and human services major, loves seeing the joy of the kids as they hop out of the vans and race to the building. “Their excitement encourages me to continue going back each week because I know how much they look forward to it,” Gates said. “Wednesday nights are often the highlight of my week because no matter what kind of day I have had, the kids never fail to bring a smile to my face.”