It was Christmas in July and there were bright, happy smiles everywhere.
That was my first, but certainly not my last, experience as an Art of Hope volunteer. From the moment I walked into Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston, I was greeted with an inspiring atmosphere of kindness, strength, determination.
Nowhere is that more evident than with the children and teen-agers who come to Shriners Hospital seeking help for extraordinary medical challenges they are facing so early in their lives. Yet they were smiling, eager to spend some quality time just being a kid and indulging their creative side.
I jumped in as well, plopping down at a table and introducing myself to a young girl who was trying to figure out what Christmas image she wanted to draw. It was a hot July day, but the theme was Christmas. The images the children drew that day would later be used to create an exclusive product line to provide a long-term revenue stream benefitting Shriners Hospitals for children.
She finally settled on drawing a sweet image of a colorful Christmas tree surrounded by a family and their pet dog. Other children were drawn to the art tables throughout the morning session and they were quickly consumed by the chance to express their imaginations and explore their artistic abilities.
Some of them had to interrupt their “art work” to go back to therapy sessions or doctor visits. I was surprised to discover that several of our art students that day were the sisters and brothers of Shriners patients who were delighted to find something meaningful to do while they waited patiently for their siblings to finish.
I‘m not an artist, but there are other AOH volunteers who are artists involved in the program. They come to the art classes to work with the children, offering them guidance, encouragement and praise. We all chatted about images, colors and design, not surgeries or treatments. We all celebrated each completed work with cheers, high-fives, photographs and laughter.
I left the hospital a little lighter that day, a little more optimistic about life, despite its many difficulties and injustices. And I was smiling.