Art exhibit educates community of dangers of human trafficking
A special unveiling was held at Phillips Gallery July 22 to showcase canvases created by youth depicting their interpretations of the effects of human trafficking.
Shortly after the reception began, Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships Executive Director Nola Theiss said this year’s ARTREACH program has been really exciting because of the overwhelming message from the kids. She said the kids are learning how to protect themselves, as well as the effects their decisions will have.
“That really impresses me,” Theiss told the crowd that gathered at Phillips Gallery Wednesday afternoon. “That is what we need kids to do.”
Human trafficking, she told the crowd is not just a small problem affecting foreign kids landing on the grounds of the United States. Theiss said human trafficking also affects kids that were raised in the states from all kinds of families.
“All kids need to know this because unfortunately as parents we can’t be with them every minute to protect them. So, they need to know how to take care of themselves,” she said.
The ARTREACH program began five years ago and now includes 90 canvas size paintings. So far this summer, the program has reached kids 8 to 18 years old from Our Mothers Home, Boys and Girls Clubs in Lehigh Acres and Bonita Springs, Pine Manor Association and the Church of Resurrection, resulting in 30 paintings. The exhibit showcased half of the paintings.
Fort Myers High School students Morgan Burch and Victoria Weller attended the program in May at the Church of Resurrection.
Burch said although he attended the program to help accumulate hours for school, he walked away with a new perspective about human trafficking. He said since Florida is the third highest state for human trafficking cases, he thought he could make a difference by attending the program.
“I like to have fun while I help,” Burch said.
He said the program opened his eyes to how many people are affected by human trafficking.
“A presentation showed girls who kept going back to human trafficking,” Burch recalled of one of the moments that stuck out during the program.
He worked with his partner Weller in a collaborative effort on a canvas that depicted a pair of eyes shedding glittery tears. Weller said the eyes represented the queen bee who is responsible for bringing more girls back. The girls were showcased through a paper chain. The tears, she said were added because “now she is a machine luring people in.”
Weller said she came away from the program better educated about Stella’s House, a home for orphan girls that are too old to stay in state run facilities and are targets for traffickers. She said Phil Cameron goes to orphanages and takes as many girls as he can and brings them back to Stella’s House to keep them safe.
“His story touched my heart,” Weller said.
Burch and Weller said if the Church of Resurrection holds the ARTREACH Program again, they will definitely attend.
Theiss said the program will reach youth at the Heights Center, as well as the Fort Myers Police Department mentoring program next month.
“We will be doing more programs because one thing that happened this summer is that we received a grant that allowed us to hire art instructors. The art instructors came with us to the programs and they help the kids,” she said.
Theiss shared a story about how the art instructors helped one girl attending the program. After the art instructor showed her how to draw a road and create a building, the young girl told the art instructor to draw those items for her.
“The art instructor said no I will show you how and then she showed her how,” she said.
The painting also included drawings of people, which again the young girl did not know how to create. The young girl asked for one of her group members to go get the art instructor.
“To me that was a really empowering progression and I was really pleased with her,” she said.
Theiss shared with the crowd that in addition to the narrative and materials that they have developed over the years, they are adding art curriculum to the mix because they offer the program all over the country. She said the program not only touches the kids, but it also touches Zonta, community and church members who want to learn how to do ARTREACH.
“What I love about it is so many of these paintings are ideas that I have never seen before,” she said. “That just shows that there is no end to this . . . that it doesn’t become repetitive. It is original and each original artist and each original group of kids.”
Urte Izdonaviciute, a Fort Myers High School student attended the ARTREACH Program at the Church of Resurrection last month and created “Don’t Lose Your Voice to Human Trafficking” with her group. The canvas showed a mermaid trapped in a bottle tied up unable to speak.
She said she wanted to attend the program because she wanted to become more educated about human trafficking.
“I learned that it is happening every second,” Izdonaviciute said, adding that individuals are so consumed with other things they do not understand what is happening.
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