Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Barbi Preston | Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona
When a new notice popped up on her Facebook page that Free Arts For Abused Children of Arizona was looking for volunteers, it might as well have been a direct message sent exclusively to her.
“Art and volunteering?”, she remembers asking herself. “I can do that.” She and a friend read the mission statement and soon went for training. Three years later and the 25-year North West Valley elementary school teacher has literally found a home, or more specifically, a group home. Once a week, Barbi spends her afternoons sharing her love for art and fun at a home for girls who have been removed from their homes due to abusive conditions. Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona believes in order to process toxic stress caused by trauma, children need positive experiences and supportive relationships.
“Although the girls can come and go, most of them here now I have known for a year and a half,” says Barbi. “I plan a project each week and try to come up with something new and fun we haven’t done before. Sometimes they are more creative than me and they come up with ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of. We always have a blast. I really have bonded with them.”
And it is the bonding that is more important than the art. Under Barbi’s direction the group created a set of guidelines about how they talk to each other. “They talk about their highs and lows of the week,” the Arizona State University alum reveals. “They are working on art, but they can also talk about whatever they want. It’s fun. They have known me long enough now there they feel it is a safe place for them and they can just do their own thing.
Barbi describes herself as more of a mentor than an artist. “I have always been a lover of art, but I’m no artist and to volunteer there you don’t even have to have experience with art. But for me, as a teacher, I was always involved with crafty things.”
Presently, Barbi is mentoring ten girls who range in age from nine to 17 including two different sets of sisters. During her entire career Barbi taught in the same at-risk district as the group home and she wanted it that way. “It’s so great to see that these girls are so well taken care of and exposed to many worthwhile opportunities from agencies like Free Arts.
“Sometimes we do extra things,” she explains. “They have spring break soon, so we will go to the park and find art in the park. We’ll have a picnic and there is a train here so we will ride the train. We’ll keep an eye out for art.”
“She always finds a way to give more and more,” says Mars de La Tour, senior volunteer coordinator for Free Arts.
When COVID-19 struck, Barbi and a cohort were the first Free Arts volunteers to venture into the Zoom world to reach the girls. “I would get the art materials ready ahead of time and drop them off at the house and we would explain everything over Zoom. It wasn’t ideal but once we got the hang of it, we let Free Arts know and they passed it on. It worked for us.”
“Barbi has remained dedicated to our mission through all the ups and downs of the pandemic years,” adds Mars.
Born in Michigan, Barbi has spent most of her life in the East Valley. She now resides in Anthem, just north of Phoenix. “I live out near the wildlife. I’m always looking for art scenes that I can take pictures of and send to the girls.” Barbi’s daughter, Ava, who just turned 18 and is headed off for college, has proved to be an able assistant on the art projects.
Barbi and Ava are among those who contribute to Free Arts vision of ensuring every child who has experienced the trauma of abuse, neglect and/or homelessness – has access to resilience-building arts programs and caring adult volunteer mentors.
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation
For more information on Free Arts For Abused Children of Arizona go to FreeArtsAZ.org