The Haven Youth Center Creates Art About Happiness

Local artist Suzane Lawler shows the Haven youth how to plan a poster using their "Happiness is..." phrases at an art class in mid April.
Photo credit: Emily Metheny

What is happiness?

The children at The Haven Youth Center can help you answer this question thanks to the help of a Community Foundation Art Grant.

In April, the center's middle schoolers spent time each week at Suzanne Lawler's Everything's a Canvas art studio to learn how to express what happiness means to them through art. Before the end of the spring semester they would pay these lessons forward to residents at The Waters of Martinsville, a senior living center.

"Happiness is..." was the question for each student as they made posters during Lawler's art classes. A variety of answers to this age old question illustrated each child's poster, ranging from phrases like “happiness is choices,” “happiness is a warm puppy,” and “happiness is an open door.” Through these posters, the students were encouraged to interpret that phrase and create a poster showing why it makes them happy.

“We explored how color relates to our personal happiness,” Judy Williams, a volunteer at The Haven said. “What color makes you happy might be different from what color makes me happy. Our youth did an excellent job.”

Lawler spent hours working on the program so it was special for both the kids and the residents of the nursing home, said Patty Champion, the Haven programming officer. Lawler's time and effort, as well as her creative and open approach made the program special.

“She was wonderful. She was the most patient, the sweetest, kindest person, and she made it fun,” said Champion.

On the last day of the program, the youth joined the residents at The Waters of Martinsville for an afternoon of painting and connecting. Each student was paired with a resident and together they worked to create posters about happiness. Lawler led the group as they created artwork and talked about happiness. Light music was playing in the background and Champion said she couldn't tell who enjoyed it more.

Champion said she knew the program would be a success, but the experience was far more than what she expected. As the kids were leaving, several asked Champion if they could come back and do the program again.

From this experience, Champion and Williams hope that there will be other opportunities for the kids to interact with the elderly through playing cards, reading, or a similar art program in the future.
One Haven youth created this sign to show his love for the center and its staff. Photo credit: Emily Metheny

Celebrating 19 years of the Haven

The Haven Youth Center has been serving Martinsville's younger generation since 1998. The property was vacant and The First Christian Church was given the opportunity to use the facility for the after school drop-in center that the church's associate pastor Rev. Linda Presley had dreamed of.  Presley put together the proposals and eventually The Haven became what it is today. However, when it came to a name, Presley wanted a special group to decide: the kids using the facility. They chose The Haven.

"I can't really think of a more appropriate name for what we do here," Williams said. "[The kids] know they can count on us. They know they will make new friends, and they know they will be accepted."

Champion said that some of the kids might not feel as safe or as loved at home, so staff consistency and the bond of friendship among peers is essential. During the 2015-2016 school year between forty and fifty middle school aged children dropped in to The Haven.

"We are here because we love them. There is a feeling of family here," Champion said. "There's a feeling of intimacy where we are all here for each other. It's safe. They don't have to worry about what anyone thinks."

The center originally catered to both high school and middle school students, but over the years the focus has changed to middle school students. All programs and resources are free to the kids.

During the summer, the the graduating fifth graders are invited to join the fun at The Haven, with extended summer hours from 1 to 5 everyday. On Fridays, the kids go on field trips throughout the Central Indiana area.

When The Haven celebrated its 10th birthday, a second endowment focusing on prevention was created at the Community Foundation of Morgan County. Every year, the center gets income from The Haven's first CFMC Endowment, which began in 2008, and Williams said they rely heavily on it.

"We depend on grant money to do prevention programming," Williams said. The Haven Endowment Fund for Prevention, as I said, is a newer fund, but we do get income from it so we are able to invite speakers or have programs for drug, alcohol, and tobacco prevention."

Even if there is not a program that week, the staff still talks with the kids about making healthy choices. At least one of the three special programs each year is related to drug prevention.
The Haven was named by the first group of Martinsville youth to use the facility. Photo credit: Emily Metheny

Purposeful Programming 

The Haven has programming throughout the year that touches on topics ranging from nutrition to tobacco use. 

There has been programming that The Haven and the Boys and Girls Club of Morgan County have run together, including hands on kitchen nutrition, yoga and meditation, the effects of drug usage, and more.
“[Grants have] allowed us to talk to [members of] the Indiana Dream Team who had gotten into trouble and now are quite humble and starting over. [Grants have also] allowed [the kids] to see a grieving mother who lost her daughter to drug use,” Patty said. “They could hold a picture of Katie and look at this urn where Katie actually is now. I think that hit home more than any words we could have said.”

"We talk and talk and talk and try to give them all the necessary information to arm themselves about getting into trouble and seeing this mother with her daughter's ashes brought it all home and brought it into reality for our kids," Champion said. "They needed to see the results."

As Katie's mother told Katie's story, Williams said you could hear a feather drop as all the kids  listened so attentively to this mother's story, trying to process how this could happen to someone from Morgan County.

"We have told the them to not just take the message for yourself but give it back to a friend. If you see one of your friends doing something harmful, say something to them," Champion said. "Our children can go out and educate their friends. We are thankful for the grants that make this possible."

-- Read an additional article from Bryan Ault at the Reporter-Times HERE --


Want to help the Haven do more?

To learn more about The Haven Youth Center Endowent Fund or The Haven Youth Center Endowment Fund for Prevention, visit the CFMC website. 

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