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The Daily Tar Heel

ArtHeels brings art therapy to UNC Hospitals patients

A UNC student organization, ArtHeels is a two-part program consisting of general body meetings along with a weekly volunteering component through UNC Hospitals.

Volunteers split up between the North Carolina Children’s Hospital and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and run programs ranging from visual, performing and literary arts with patients.

“It’s a program where volunteers work with inpatient or outpatient groups, and it’s just a great volunteer opportunity for students and patients,” said Donna Daniel, adult volunteer coordinator at UNC Hospitals.

As co-president of ArtHeels, senior Sara Miles said she makes it her mission not only to bring art therapy into the greater community, but also simply to bring smiles to the patients’ faces — and smiles are abundant in the Pediatric Play Atrium of the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

“In the playroom, it’s like they’re a real kid again, which is something you take for granted when you’re younger,” Miles said.

Volunteers also entertain children and their families in the hospital waiting rooms with arts and crafts tables, singing and even putting on clown performances.

“I think that the hospital benefits by having art therapy because it treats symptoms that can’t be treated with medicine, such as stress,” said senior Kelly Tan, co-president of the organization.

“If we can make a patient’s stay a little less stressful, their general experience will be more positive.”

Tiffany Payne, a 2014 UNC graduate, former member and co-president of the organization, said she wholeheartedly believes in the good ArtHeels is doing through the practice of art therapy.

“Art therapy was not the overall goal. However, I do believe in the healing power of art in medicine,” Payne said. “It’s about going in there to do a craft and engage their mind, which really promotes the healing process,” she said.

When asked about her favorite part of working in the organization, it was a simple enough answer that reflected what ArtHeels aims to do: to brighten up someone’s day.

“It just feels so rewarding to give back to a community that’s been a huge part of my life,” Payne said.

“My favorite part was just seeing these kids and their families — interacting with them while they’re going through probably one of the most difficult times of their life.”

While ArtHeels is a student organization that promotes healing through art, Miles said that at the end of the day, it is an organization just trying to give back to the community its members hold so dear.

“Some people think they shouldn’t do it because they don’t have a background in art,” she said.

“But it’s having the heart to serve and help other people that counts.”

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