Art Nights Create Safe Space for Youth to Express Themselves

by Kate Kennedy | August 16, 2021

Article by Alex Gangitano and Margaret Crilley

Earlier this year, the Enzler Society launched a monthly paint night series for the clients at Catholic Charities’ Youth Transitional Program (YTP), a former transitional shelter for college-aged men. Paint night is led by local artist and Maryland native, Kasey O’Boyle, who teaches visual art at the Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac.

When approached to lead the sessions on behalf of the Enzler Society, O’Boyle was quick to get involved.

“When asked if I would teach the youth at YTP, I automatically said yes, and I think God compelled me. For me, making art has led to a wonderful career and beautiful life, and I believe my talent and knowledge are gifts that God wants me to share,” she said.

O’Boyle has inspired the youth to express themselves through art, which has proven to be a form of therapy for the clients in the program. Especially after living in the shelter through the COVID-19 pandemic, art therapy has been a critical outlet for them.

“As much as this work is about the art, it’s hopefully also about human connection,” O’Boyle said. “I decided to go [to the shelter] in person because I wanted to be really present, with them and for them. When you make art, you can experience a range of emotions: frustration, elation, confusion, pride. And letting others in on what you’re feeling can be a vulnerable process that requires trust. That’s why it’s important for me to be there in person.”

Thanks to generous donations from members, families and friends, the Enzler Society is able to provide all required art supplies, as well as dinner, for the clients.

Paola Flores, program manager at YTP, has been thrilled with the program, and she sees firsthand how the clients have embraced these sessions.

“Art therapy is a sense of self-expression. I believe in the ability of connecting self with healing through creative freedom,” Flores said. “The clients we serve have a lot of traumas that they faced at an early age. The clients enjoy this time to express themselves differently — creating something, as well as working on their inner healing. Art has a special way of reminding us that there is beauty in life even during the darkest hour.”

The clients at YTP have painted everything from the Washington, D.C., flag and scenes of nature to abstract art and color shapes.

Sheldon Smith, a YTP client, said he likes art therapy because painting soothes him. He painted a planet on one of the paint nights because it fell on Earth Day.

“I felt relaxed while painting, as I always do, but it felt good to paint with the other guys so that maybe they’ll feel relaxed, too,” he said.

Another client, Delonte Walls, said that art therapy allowed him to express himself.

“I painted a blue broken heart because, at the time, that’s how I was feeling, I was feeling kind of sad, but I’m not in that place anymore so the next session I’ll paint something different,” he said.

It’s been so wonderful hearing about how the clients can express themselves and cope with their feelings through these paint nights. O’Boyle and the Enzler Society overall are eager to see what future paint nights can bring to the YTP clients.

“Ultimately, I hope that art making creates a safe space for the youth to experiment, make mistakes, feel pride, and feel God’s love,” O’Boyle said.

(Alex Gangitano and Margaret Crilley are among co-chairs of the Enzler Society, a group of young professionals who raise awareness of Catholic Charities’ mission though volunteer services and community networking.)