Art makes Susan Fox feel connected and alive. For the last decade, she has volunteered to introduce the children of Newton to how art can make them feel.
A pharmacist at Newton Medical Center, Fox has appreciated art’s role in her life since high school. When her children began attending Newton Bible Church School, the small facility didn’t have a class dedicated to art. She volunteered to help out, off and on, over the last ten years. At one point, she was teaching all grades; this year, she is just with her youngest’s class.
Many times people hesitate to volunteer because they feel they need an elaborate set of skills or tools. Fox has found this isn’t always the case. It’s more important that she show up, than that she have an impressive plan. This led her to Norm’s Coffee Bar’s after-school program for middle-schoolers.
One or two afternoons per week, Fox comes to Norm’s and puts a long strip of paper on the table for kids to doodle, draw and write their names. She always writes this message: You belong, You matter, You are loved.
“It’s a message I need to hear every day,” Fox said.
She said spreading that message of inclusion and truth is a big piece of why she volunteers with kids.
Her first year, she had more structure with planning activities, and talking kids through more steps. With more students coming and staying longer this year, Fox has changed to fit what is going on.
She now has more freedom, often seeing what kids want to do. She brings an assortment of watercolor pens, colored Sharpies and ink pens. She has found a great way to connect is to practice her own hand lettering with their names. She also guides kids through projects as they show interest. As the crowds of kids start going home, Fox is often left sitting with just a handful of students, making meaningful connections.
She found this evolution to be true to the artistic process, saying that creative blocks tend to come when we feel we need to be more elaborate, instead of sitting quietly.
“Creativity comes in times with just our brain, paper and a marker,” Fox said.
This is a life lesson Fox imparts to all the kids she teaches, encouraging those that struggle with perfection. Developing their mindset about creativity is important to her, especially when she sees how they can take a negative comment about their creations to heart.
“I say, ‘art isn’t perfect, and that’s OK.’ I want to change the way they’re talking, and how they view it when they say ‘I can’t draw,’” she said.
Fox emphasizes that creativity is like a muscle that grows the more it is used. She also compares it to soccer and the way some people are good the first time they touch a ball, and others practice to become good at it.
Some of the various projects Fox has done at Norm’s include drawings of Chinese pagodas, butterflies and faces. They’ve done scratch art with crayons and paper, made spaghetti drawings, ornaments and Play Doh sculptures. Glass globe eyeballs were a favorite.
“I really love creativity in all forms,” said Fox. “It’s how we are wired. I believe we are here to create, to use our God-given talents.”