Drawing on the Power of Art to help vulnerable children to Heal, Cope and Grow

What if every child had a nurturing relationship to encourage healthy expression, build confidence and inspire passion.

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

On August 29, 2005, I was planning an art show for the following spring as Hurricane Katrina was reeking havoc and causing severe destruction in south eastern Louisiana. That show, featured local encaustic artist, Eleanor Schimmel, opened on Mar 3, 2006. Kelly Fay, a 16-year-old refugee from the hurricane attended. Kelly met Eleanor. What I witnessed changed my life. After the trauma of the hurricane; losing her possessions, being displaced from her home, living in temporary shelter and ultimately being forced to live away from her family and friends, Eleanor’s barns - symbolized a sanctuary for Kelly representing the warmth and welcome she’d received in the chester county countryside. It opened a flood of feelings for Kelly. Eleanor, kind and compassionate, recognized the reaction from Kelly. Eleanor, by sharing the color, line, texture and hands-on process of her art, shared an intimate connection with Kelly giving her the opportunity to feel her sorrow, acknowledge her current situation and express her gratitude. In short, Art became the vehicle for connection and healing. Their relationship continued over the next couple of years. When Kelly graduated from HS in 2007, Eleanor sent her a piece of Art.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Pennsylvania

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Pennsylvania

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

We deliver programs in both Phoenixville and West Chester but serve all of Chester County PA.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Barnstone Art for Kids addresses Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) as a public health concern and has specifically developed the Power of Art, a trauma informed resiliency program, to reduce the risk of poor outcomes for children suffering adversity. The Power of Art includes a creative full-year curriculum that encourages the development of healthy life skills by pairing a child with a compassionate mentor to create and explore art in a safe, positive environment.

In a landmark study in the 1990’s, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente Health Appraisal Clinic assessed the association of childhood maltreatment and later life health and well being. 17,000 adults were assessed an ACE score based on answers to 10 questions about the occurrence of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction during their childhood. The study found a clear association between exposure to ACE and high-risk health behaviors (including smoking, substance abuse and risky sexual behavior) and negative health outcomes (including obesity, depression, suicide, asthma, mental illness and up to 20 year lower life expectancy).  The ACE results are consistently duplicated.  In 2012, the Philadelphia Urban ACE Study corroborated the elevated risk of negative behavior and poor heath outcomes with high ACE scores in children from Southeastern PA. 

Research at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University documents the significance of a supportive relationship with a committed caregiver or adult in the community. These relationships buffer children from developmental disruption and help them build necessary adaptive competencies that enable them to respond to adversity and thrive.  The combination of supportive relationships, adaptive skill-building, and positive experiences constitute the foundation of what is commonly called resilience.[1]  The bottom line - a comprehensive program that provides a compassionate mentor and an exciting program that builds self competencies in a safe and supported environment can help kids develop resiliency to mitigate the risks of early adverse experiences.

Barnstone Art for Kids created The Power of Art program, a yearlong, free-of-cost, unique integrative art program for children ages 4-12, suffering from adversity in Chester County, Pennsylvania. All children are paired with volunteer mentors who work one-on-one with the children, providing instructional art activities in a small and nurturing group setting. Mentors are community members - artists, parents, caregivers, health care professionals, educators and students.  All are given background clearances and receive trauma informed training prior to participating in the program. The program improves life skills for children by:
                         •  Teaching problem solving and coping skills
                         •  Developing supportive relationships with peers & adults
                         •  Granting permission and ability to learn from mistakes
                         •  Developing competencies (academic, social, extracurricular)
                         •  Expressing feelings appropriately
                         •  Feeling physically and emotionally safe
                         •  Offering time to relax and do recreational activities

[1] Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2015). Supportive Relationships and Active Skill-Building Strengthen the Foundations of Resilience: Working Paper 13.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Low-income communities
  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Children with high Adverse Childhood Exp (ACE) scores - household dysfunction, abuse & neglect.

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Being bullied for not being into typical boy stuff, Adian never quite felt like he fit in. In the small group setting, where creativity is valued and coloring outside the lines is supported, he found his place. His eyes sparkled with delight when he was encouraged to add glitter and feathers to his mask. He sang and danced and acted the part of his free spirited jungle animal. Adian is learning to accept himself without judgment. He is free to be happy, excited and confident about participating in the arts.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Currently in the first year of our new program, we are in the early stages of capturing recordable information to document and analyze our program effectiveness. To assess change, parent (or guardian or caseworker) complete a survey assessing child’s coping skills at the onset of the program that will be repeated as the end of the year. Mentors also complete a report between sessions that evaluates each child in relation to developing resiliency skills (communication, social, problems-solving, creativity and craftsmanship). While a necessary tool, these surveys only capture a small part of the impact and change we see on a regular basis. We see changes everyday: an increase in eye contact; more substantive participation; a deep belly laugh from a quiet corner. We see a reduction in wandering and fidgety behavior. The quiet ones talk. Children encourage one another.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation email

Evaluation results

8 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 62.5%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 37.5%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 14.3%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 71.4%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 14.3%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 37.5%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 37.5%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 14.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 71.4%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 14.3%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 25%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 75%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 75%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 50%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Momi

Hi Lynn - Thanks so much for sharing your work with the Children's Wellbeing Initiative. I'm newer to the realm of Wellbeing, but from what I can gather, your project serves to create a safe space for children dealing with adversity to grow through the arts and supportive relationships. I love the idea of using the arts and community as a venue for reflection, growth, acceptance, and expression. 

A few questions and concerns that you might want to consider addressing: a.) The response to the first question could be made a little clearer. Did Kelly get to participate in creating art or did she just get to see Eleanor's? b.) How many students did you serve in your first year of running? This helps make your impact and impact potential clearer to readers.        Thanks again for sharing! 

Photo of Lynn

Thank you for commenting.

Simply by viewing, Kelly was drawn into Eleanor's art. The conversation that followed included talking about the process. Encaustic work is wonderful in this way, reminiscent of a rhythmic dance - with hot wax, blow torches, carving instruments.   Talking about the process that gives encaustic art its characteristic depth and feeling became the vehicle for a more personal discussion.  
While Barnstone Art for Kids was incorporated in 2011, 2015 was our first year of the Power of Art program. This program was developed after a 12 month strategic plan analyzing our mission, programs, the unmet need in the community and the growing health concern for family with high ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). In 2015 Barnstone Art for Kids directly enrolled 18 children in the Power of Art, 6 began in January, 3 in June and 9 in September. Additionally, Barnstone mentors travelled to a domestic violence center to serve 31 more children. We have begun tracking results. The data on our first 5 children to complete the program (one of children from the January start only completed 6 weeks of the program) looks amazing! Uniformly, each child improved in all five domains evaluated- Communication skills, Social Skills, Problem solving, Creativity, and Craftsmanship. The data for the June and September group is still being collected and evaluated.