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How art is helping homeless youth find their way

Teachers at Project Create aim to give youth a space to explore their talents, while simultaneously providing art therapy.
Posted at 10:21 AM, May 24, 2023

Katie Macyshyn stands at the end of a long table, with plaster and paint covering the area in front of her. Her hands gently start dabbing color onto a latex mask she's just pulled out of a mold. Around the table, eight young students all watch and listen as Macyshyn walks them through a process they'll soon have to try themselves.

"It's good for kids to learn you can fail seven times, you just have to succeed the eighth," Macyshyn said.

Macyshyn has been an art teacher at Project Create in Washington D.C.'s Ward 8 for the last three years. The nonprofit's goal is to give young people in this impoverished neighborhood a space to explore their talents, while simultaneously providing art therapy. It's all in hopes of providing these young people, many of whom have experiencing housing insecurity, a permanent place to find their future paths in life.

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Sitting at the table on a recent Wednesday night was 11-year-old Askia Turnipseed. He lives in the neighborhood and has been coming to this free class for the last two months. When we met Askia, he was putting the finishing touches on a face mask he was hoping to show his parents at an upcoming art show.

"What makes me proud is all the hard work I've put into it," Turnipseed said.

Project Create's executive director Christie Walser says many classes also double as therapy for kids and their families.

"The kids that come here feel like this is a home away from home. Kids feel like they're being creative and having fun and making art, but they're actually addressing an undercurrent of feelings and emotions," she said.

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Every year, an estimated 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness in the U.S. Most experts, though, believe that number is an undercount because of how hard it can be to contact homeless youth.

The art classes provide "a sense of place, a sense of stability, a sense of continuity," Walser said.

"Coming from the community we come from, you're battling a lot. You're battling the temptations," said Ahmad Woodard.

The belief at Project Create is that giving kids an outlet to grow their talents will help them find their way, no matter where they call home.