In the final two days before they closed their doors in March, staff members at New England Yachad in Brookline made bags of art supplies—colored paper, stickers, beads, pipe cleaners, and more—and sent them home with participants who happened to be in the building.
The pandemic was just beginning and the hope was that the art supplies would help fulfill Yachad’s mission of reducing social isolation and increasing connection to the Jewish community for individuals with disabilities.
The Yachad team was onto something. Before long, more and more participants were asking for art supplies. Thanks to a $20,000 grant from CJP’s Coronavirus Emergency Fund, the “Art in a Box” program was born.
With the funding, Yachad purchased and distributed two rounds of art kits to 200 individuals, for a total of 400 kits, said Liz Offen, director of Yachad New England. The kits contained items including coloring books, glue sticks, clay, watercolors, markers, sketch pads, word searches, bead kits, sand art, Hebrew letter stickers, and more.
“We are so pleased to be a part of Yachad’s commitment to encouraging connections and community through art,” said Sophie Krentzman, CJP’s director of arts and culture. “CJP is deeply invested in the arts as a way to bring people together, support artists, and infuse our lives with joy, especially during difficult times.”
Different kits were created for adults and children, Offen said. Yachad staff also designed art kits for individuals who had a lack of fine motor skills or muscle strength in their hands. These “adaptive” kits had larger markers and rollers instead of paint brushes, as well as sponges on handles that could be gripped in the fist. All of the kits included bags of snacks for the recipients.
“The art kits funded by CJP brought a message of hope to our community of children and adults with disabilities,” said Offen. “The boxes contained more than markers, activity books, paint, and clay—they contained an entire community within. When participants received a box, they knew that someone was thinking of them, someone knew they were home during the COVID-19 crisis, and that they were cared for.”
An added bonus: There was room in the art kits to include trophies for the 75 members of Yachad’s bowling league, whose end-of-the league ceremony was canceled because of the pandemic. “That was a huge surprise for them,” Offen said.
The response to the kits was overwhelming, from both Yachad participants and their families.
“I want to thank you for the work that Yachad is doing,” said a local mother of two children with autism, who received art kits. “You’ve been such a huge support for our family. The art supplies were so unexpected and a welcome source of things the kids can do on their own.”
Jacob, a 17-year-old Yachad participant, said he loved the art supplies—and the snack! “It was fun to paint a picture in the sketchbook with the paints you sent me,” he said. “I also ate the Hershey’s bar; it was delicious.”
While the pandemic has proven a difficult time for all, Offen said she and her team have learned many lessons over the past nine months.
“We know that with adequate support, our adults with autism and other disabilities can successfully integrate technology into their daily routines. We have record numbers joining us to participate in online communities, socializing remotely, and joining all kinds of virtual classes,” she said. “And when the art kits were used in conjunction with dozens of Yachad programs, online participants truly connected with others and lessened their social isolation. We may still be physically distant, but we are a strong community, even during a pandemic.”