“I was analyzing my role on campus and deciding where I wanted to spend my time,” she said. “Last year is when I found my passion for painting. So I decided I wanted to focus more on art, my artistic side and how that relates to health.”
Since then, Sharma has taken on a group leader position where she organizes and guides volunteers through crafts in both general body meetings and with the children they work with.
“The meetings weren’t what I expected,” she said. “We do really fun crafts and I felt like a kid. It's really helped me realize that college isn't just about school, there's other aspects to it and that we should take time for ourselves.”
Sharma said in addition to stepping into a leadership role, she loves to bring her friends along with her to meetings and get them involved with the organization. She also looks forward to potentially stepping into a higher leadership position on the organization’s executive board.
Thanks to the efforts of the executive board over the last year, Sharma said ArtHeels has expanded its volunteer numbers and community partnerships.
“There were maybe 15 to 20 people at any meeting before,” She said. “Now these meetings are huge and hopefully next year, if I am on exec, I can see through to that, that it keeps expanding.”
Volunteers don’t just get to provide the benefits of art therapy to children in the community, said ArtHeels President Lizzie Satkowiak, they also get to participate in art therapy themselves.
“I've had people on the rowing team, for example, reach out to me and say, ‘Sports and school take up like 90 percent of my time, but I really want to get back to that 10 percent where I enjoy doing art,' Satkowiak said. “I find that when college students are able to come to our meetings and do crafts at them, it's their opportunity to have that side back and they're able to take that completely relaxed break. It's just really enjoyable to be able to do art not only with kids, but with your peers.”
Satkowiak said after she and the other members on the executive board decide the general theme of the crafts, they go to group leaders and collaborate to generate craft ideas.
This semester Sharma and her fellow group leaders will be helping children in the Communiversity after-school programs make climate change themed crafts.
“We'll be doing this big project on different biomes and each lesson is going to incorporate how we can better protect parts of the ecosystem in our daily lives as well as fun facts,” Satkowiak said.
The biomes made from individual craft sessions with the children in Communiversity will be combined in a final display at their church as a culmination of their artistic and educational exploration throughout the semester.
Since the children in Pediatric Playroom are usually in the hospital for long-term stays, Satkowiak said ArtHeels offers them an emotional and mental break away from their illness.
“We try to give them the opportunity of being able to take whatever craft they make with them,” he said.
In both Communiversity and Pediatric Playroom, ArtHeels’ goal is to provide children with the opportunity to engage with art as a form of therapy. While the volunteers are not licensed psychological therapists, Satkowiak said that taking the time to ask how their day is going during a craft can be helpful.
“It’s a really great experience to see how excited kids can be over some of the projects,” said ArtHeels Vice President Lauren Hobgood. “No matter how small, it definitely makes an impact and we’re able to make the kids’ days a little bit brighter, as cheesy as that sounds.”
Another aspect of ArtHeels that Sharma, Satkowiak and Hobgood all highlighted is its low-stress, low-commitment orientation.
“I want volunteers to be involved when they can be," Satkowiak said. "When they come out to these events but they're stressed about 19 exams they have next week, they can't really help facilitate their crafts. I'd much rather them take that break and then come back when they're feeling better and are able to be more open and relaxed.”
ArtHeels’ first general body meeting of the semester is Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. in room 1373 of the Genome Science Building. Volunteers with all levels of art experience are welcome to attend and get involved.
“My decision to join was related to dental school, but it has helped me with my mental health as well,” Sharma said. “You grow as a person as a student and can focus on your mental health, which is not something you'll find in a lot of other clubs.”