Avni Barman, a constant doodler, realized as a young child that art to her is much more than just a hobby. It gives her a break from tedious study sessions, refreshes her mind and recharges her body.

In Avni’s own words: “My parents tells me I have been doodling since I was three years old. I started drawing anything that caught my imagination on my easel very early on and art continued to absorb me as a one of my favorite classes in elementary school.

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My favorite type of Art is capturing scenes/ pictures using the medium of oil pastels. As I advanced to the higher classes in elementary and middle school, I realized that art to me became much more than a hobby. I started dabbling in art for hours sometime, as a break from tedious study sessions or to refresh my mind. Art became my passion and an outlet.

I won some awards in the Bay Area as well which further fueled my passion and creativity. During this time, I also had the opportunity to lead several service projects during elementary school and middle school years, leveraging my art skills to make tray cards for patients in Oakland hospital, holiday cards for the elderly in senior homes as well as for fundraising efforts. I realized while working with younger children that Art can be a very positive diversion for them besides being therapeutic.

From this thought came the desire and the inspiration to leverage my art skills for distracting sick/needy children on their path to recovery.I spent extensive time in my freshman year researching the benefits of using Art as a pain intervention technique. Then in January of my sophomore year, I started small by approaching local Bay Area Hospitals with a proposal of the “Power of Art in Pain Management”. To support my proposal, I created age-appropriate, easy to teach ART projects for small children – teenagers. My goal with sharing my passion of the Arts with patients (particularly children), was to distract them from their illness, help reduce the stress of the hospital experience, nurture their artistic side, and perhaps in this process alleviate some pain towards a faster recovery. Kaiser gave me an opportunity to work under their child life specialist through summer. I worked 1:1 with pediatric patients and did some very rewarding work. I also had an opportunity to work at J.W. House in Kaiser Santa Clara besides an autistic center in Dublin. Volunteering at these places and a few other local events,
I realized I would need to fundraise to take this effort to the next level.”

Her belief that art can be therapeutic came into reality when a troubled teenage patient in Kaiser, who was not very vocal otherwise, opened up with Avni during the Art Sessions. Kaiser took note and asked Avni to continue to be engaged with this patient, until the patient left the hospital.

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With several positive testimonials and rewarding experiences, Avni decided to expand her reach to other Bay Area hospitals and homeless shelters offering her art program as an alternative therapy to children. In hindsight, it was not an easy ride for a sophomore high school student to convince hospitals to launch a program dealing with patients. She did have some struggles convincing hospitals that a teenager could help them incorporate a beneficial art activity for sick children and run a volunteer program. However, Avni’s focus and determination did not change. She decided to persevere and even expand her efforts further.

With shelters, it was an easier task to propose and enable a similar type of art program. Volunteer art & craft activities for homeless shelters would provide a safe and positive diversion for kids in traumatic environment. She launched her effort at Abode in Fremont where several shelter kids now anxiously wait for these Art sessions. Avni does not typically repeat the same session. She is always up to something creative for children. For the children, these sessions foster a sense of accomplishment besides confidence and well-being. She is now enabling several more shelters in the Bay area besides (like Abode in Fremont, “Family Supportive Housing” in San Jose), leading a mural painting project in another center for troubled teens.

With the program showing instant results, she has also been able to extend her reach to more medical facilities (like Regional Medical Center and My Friends Pediatric Center in Willow Glen, San Jose) this year.

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So far the program has been running with no additional money from homeless shelters and hospitals. Avni is raising her own funds to support her program through outreach and fund raising effort via friends and family (note fundraising site: Putting Smiles on Children’s Faces on Piggybackr) Avni’s long term vision and hope is to turn her volunteer efforts into a formal program for other like-minded teens to follow. She has been able to convince few of her fellow mates to support her in this cause, who are now assisting her in homeless shelters.

In her own words: “My long term goals are to outreach to like-minded art students who may like to participate in this project and follow the same path of teaching Art to the sick and needy in the Bay Area. As a means to this goal, I would like to continue to fund raise and mentor these participants with the hope to grow the success of this program, so it can reach every hospital and homeless shelter in the Bay Area.”

Besides being recognized by the local community, she has also been granted the Spring

2014 Susan Lindquist Community Service Grant by the Tutor Corps Foundation.

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