The Star-Herald

Presque Isle area nonprofit collects art supplies for children in foster care

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Members of Aroostook Partners in the Arts have begun collecting and distributing bags of art supplies in hopes of giving children in foster care creative outlets to express themselves and connect with their new families.

The Crayons and Care Project aims to give all 250 children who are in foster care in Aroostook County age-appropriate art supplies, including crayons, markers, coloring books and sketchbooks. Two APA board members packaged the first 50 bags this past weekend to be given to area children, and hope to continue the project.

Board member Halina Herzog, the director of Washburn’s 21st Century After School program, said that the project gained momentum after APA connected with Sarah Hatt, an Aroostook County representative for Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine. Hatt will  help coordinate the distribution of art supplies to local children who are currently living with foster families.

From there APA earned $572 in proceeds from an Usborne Books and More book sale and received donated bags and notebooks from Aroostook County Action Program’s Maine Prevention Services and 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go programs. APA board members contributed a total of $200 in art supplies to the project while other supplies came from private donors in the community.

“This project has already gotten so many people excited to help out the kids,” Herzog said.

Aroostook Partners in the Arts board members Halina Herzog (left) and Gretchen Violette prepare bags of art supplies at Barresi Financial. APA will distribute the art supplies to children in foster care. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald).

APA board member Gretchen Violette said that she has seen firsthand the positive impact that art can have on children in foster care, especially those who are transitioning to a new home and getting to know their foster families. 

“Any time a child is taken out of their comfort zone it’s important for them to be able to express themselves,” Violette said. “Art is something that they can share with their new family and something that can help the parents better connect with the child.”

APA is made up of a 12-member board that provides annual grant funding to arts educators in Aroostook County who are looking to launch unique arts projects for their students. Board members secure the funds through regular fundraising and community art events.

Violette noted that the Crayons and Care Project is one of many ways that APA has expanded its community outreach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the earlier months of the pandemic, teachers were more focused on helping students transition to remote learning and did not have the time to think of new projects. 

The change led APA to find other ways to promote the creative arts, including an outdoor community art exhibit this past summer and an online art auction that will begin on the group’s Facebook page in February. 

In more recent months APA has begun seeing an increase in educators asking for funding. The board plans to continue providing those funds while also continuing community-based projects such as Crayons and Care.

“I don’t see an end to this project,” Violette said about Crayons and Care. “I think the project will grow over time as we learn what has made the greatest impact on these children.”

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