"We see art as a form of therapy," said Meg Bourne, the 23-year-old founder of Art Feeds, a Mobile Arts Center based out of Joplin, MO that is dedicated to the growth and healing of children through art, and serves approximately 3,800 children each school semester. "Whether we are working with a student with a disability or a child that has experienced severe trauma, we are looking to create a great impact wherever we go. I find that the longer a child goes without a resource for expression, regardless of their ability, the more detrimental it can be for their development."
The idea for the organization generated from an experience Meg had as a volunteer. In 2009, Meg was a 19-year-old college student volunteering at a local school in her community. When one of her students started to fall behind in class, Meg investigated the issue and soon found out that the boy was not being fed enough at home. "He was having trouble catching on to the lessons due to his malnourishment. So we provided him with sustenance, and that's where the concept of ‘Art Feeds' originated. And once we spent more time with him in class, he began to thrive through his art. That's when I knew there was a deeper underlying issue. We can support kids through the food we give them, but it's just as important to feed them artistically and emotionally. Once I came to this realization, I knew there were so many more kids I could impact through this strategy."
From this experience, Meg launched Art Feeds. The first official Art Feeds classroom had nine children. She brought in her own art supplies - funded primarily through her part-time job - and for 30 minutes of their school day, her students began to express themselves through their artwork. As Meg's classes continued, and as these students gained confidence and self-worth, other teachers began to notice and request for their students to take part. Within the first year, Art Feeds grew from serving the classroom of nine students to serving between 200 and 500 kids a week.
But then, in 2011, a catastrophic tornado hit Joplin. Labeled the deadliest tornado in America since 1947, the natural disaster destroyed Meg's home, the Art Feeds van and all of the program's valuable art supplies. "The tornado, now that could have been the end for us. But I knew in the aftermath of what had happened to my town, that was when our students would need us most and that was when we had to grow our program." With the help of the community and support from local schools, Meg and her team worked to reestablish Art Feeds in Joplin, and since then the organization has continued to thrive.
Currently, Meg and her team of staff members, volunteers and educators work in ten different schools throughout Joplin and surrounding communities. For Meg, the effort she has dedicated to creating and sustaining Art Feeds has more than paid off. "Every single second, through each student I work with, I am reminded why I do what I do. I worked with a little boy recently who, after the tornado hit, would draw tornado, tornado, tornado, every day. One day his mom told me he started drawing rainbows. It's those experiences that make it all worthwhile."
For more information on Art Feeds and how you can get involved, visit the site: http://artfeeds.org/.