PICTURED ABOVE: The therapy room, renovated by Junior Meghna Jain, at Promise House. // Photo provided by Meghna Jain
As she stood in front of the Studio Art I class in February 2017, then sophomore Meghna Jain instructed the class to paint their canvas one solid color. Jain then asked them to look around the room and draw a blind contour with a sharpie of some of their classmates, creating colorful canvases to adorn the counseling rooms at Promise House, a shelter for teenagers in Dallas.
Jain, a Girl Scout since Kindergarten in her troop through Hockaday, started her work for her Girl Scout Gold Award Project during the summer of 2016 when she partnered with Promise House. Her vision was to furnish the therapy areas with artwork that would increase the comfort level of those at the shelter as they went through counseling sessions.
But this is not the first time that Jain has partnered with Promise House. She worked with them through a previous Girl Scout project in 2016.
“For my [Girl Scout] Silver Award, I did a project at Promise House too. We renovated the library there,” Jain said.
Since the start of Jain’s Silver Award Project, Paloma Belmarez, an executive assistant at Promise House, has worked closely with Jain to plan and help her find projects that would improve the space.
Belmarez was hesitant at first because not all of the remodeling projects always turn out as planned.
“In her case, she was thorough and intuitive into what our population wants,” Belmarez said. “The library is still in the same pristine order because the kids have learned a lot respectability.”
As a result of Jain’s work with the library, Belmarez wanted to continue the work with Jain to create art to adorn the counseling rooms.
“What I like about it is that she has actually been very considerate to our population,” Belmarez said. “[She] tried to find out what we need rather than what she thinks would benefit the agency.”
After she decided to complete her Gold Award Project through furnishing these rooms at Promise House with artwork, Jain—a Studio Art student herself—asked Form I Dean and Studio Art teacher Emily Bemenderfer if the class could participate.
“As part of the Gold Award, you need a leadership component, so we came up with teaching the art classes with the Studio Art I girls with a project that they could do so that I could lead them in it,” Jain said.
Jain’s work in planning and approaching her with the nearly completed plan that aimed to combine her love for art and her involvement in Girl Scouts impressed Bemenderfer.
“We talked about where might be a good place and we realized that I could incorporate the project into the Art I curriculum,” Bemenderfer said. “It would be a good leadership opportunity for her to lead the class.”
After Bemenderfer and Jain decided that the Studio Art I class would be the best fit to help with her project, Jain solidified her plan and started teaching it to the class.
“She gave most of the instructions, and I just facilitated after she was finished and help them through it,” Bemenderfer said. “She was pretty much in charge and I just helped her where she needed it.”
Sophomore Alexandra Orchid has worked with Jain through various art classes outside of Hockaday and participated in the Studio Art I class last year. Orchid enjoyed participating as Jain’s project impressed her.
“I thought it was really interesting how she decided to come up with this project and do it for Promise House, involving art,” Orchid said. “I work with her out of school in art, so I thought it was really cool that she was doing it and that I knew her through that before the project.”
Ultimately, Bemenderfer believes that the most powerful element of this project for her students was that they were not able to keep the finished product.
“Because of their mixed experience with some of the issues that the kids at Promise House might be going through, I think that affected their interaction with their own project and that they tried to incorporate colors that they were able to associate with emotions,” Bemenderfer said.
Bemenderfer believed that her students were more considerate when painting this artwork than when creating it for themselves as they took into account what those at Promise House would want to see while in counseling sessions.
“They didn’t necessarily choose something like ‘this is my favorite color and I am going to put it in my room,’” Bemenderfer said. “It was something like ‘I am going to use these blues because they reflect sadness or yellows that reflect happiness.’”
And Belmarez has noticed that the paintings have had an influence on the counseling sessions, not only serving as a talking point to initiate conversations, but also as a calming aspect for the residents.
“Some of our residents are actually asking for duplicate artwork for other rooms, so it is really a great thing that she has done,” Belmarez said.
Katie O’Meara – News Editor