Ali’s Story: How Your Support Matters

Ali Palin (at right) shared her SafeArt story with us this year:

My name is Ali Palin. Since last winter I have been a Youth Program Facilitator for SafeArt, yet my history with SafeArt began in my sophomore year in Williamstown High School, when I joined the SafeArt Ensemble.

When I joined, I was excited at the prospect of being creative, of performing, of meeting new “artsy” people, and of talking about some aspects of life that are heavy and hard to address. In the Ensemble, we were given permission to spill out our emotions and connect with others on a fundamental level. I was completely empowered by my newfound freedom of expression. To perform, we needed courage to bring ourselves before our peers and say “I stand by what I’m saying.” My experience opened my heart to the vulnerability of people, of kids I knew well and those I only walked past in the hallway. I became aware of the power of gentleness, compassion, and empathy. It was only later that I also became aware of the generosity of donors and community members who helped bring the Ensemble to life.

At Maine College of Art, I drew on all I had learned from SafeArt. During formal critiques, I was able to take that extremely vulnerable position in front of my work and in front of my peers, to say “I believe in this, I stand by this.” I was able to take ownership of my creation, of the spirit that went into my paintings whether or not my teachers and peers “liked” it. When it was my turn to critique someone else’s work, I found that the lessons I learned of gentleness, of compassion, and of empathy were still conscious within me. I was able to practice what I learned in SafeArt about the importance of expressing your inner self and trusting your intuition, with kindness.

After graduating from art school, I kept my experiences with SafeArt as a set of tools in my belt. When Tracy asked me if I would like to be part of SafeArt’s youth program, it felt natural that this heartfelt work would find its way back to me and I to it. In the past year at SafeArt, I have worked with teenagers, with children, and with other teachers and facilitators. I have again taken that vulnerable position in front of a group of people, exchanging information like a web being woven from all sides of the room. I participated in residencies and ran an after school group in Randolph, where I got to know young people more intimately each week. Over the summer, with the support of foundation funding, I taught weekly art classes at the Brookhaven Treatment and Learning Center in Chelsea and the One Planet summer program in Orange and Windsor counties. I also taught children how to make their own picture books at a library in South Royalton and helped run children’s activities for the Chelsea Library’s booth at the Chelsea Farmers Market. My hope is that the young people I’ve worked with will feel the same spark of confidence and creativity that has guided me.

I saw this spark clearly one afternoon in the Randolph teen after school group.

We each grabbed blank paper and sat on the floor in a circle. Leading us through the awkward first steps, I turned on some music and danced in the center. I asked them to follow the lines of my body and movement, and to draw what they observed. They would have to use their emotional response to my movement more than what their eyes could see, for the body was too quick to capture in rigid lines; the spirit, however, could be felt. One after another each person got up to dance in turn, timid and embarrassed at first. Nerves and self-consciousness quickly dissipated, ushering in freedom and joy, such pure expression I had not seen in a long time. By the end I could sense that they were each grounded to the floor they moved across, to the air they stirred with their individual inflections of breath and strength, to the light in the room that was exhaling with a blue winter sunset, and to the circle in which they felt truly seen.

I am deeply proud of the essential lessons I have brought to young people through SafeArt. One of the most important and simple lessons we share is how to use mindful breath to become calm, present, and centered. This is a tool every person can use in times of stress or difficulty.

As a facilitator I have learned to trust my intuition, and trust that other people are absorbing more than they appear to be (especially when working with teenagers). This work resonates deeply with people, offering them internal resources that they can call upon when necessary.

Your generosity and a significant grant from the Canaday Family Charitable Trust has helped fund youth programs in and out of schools for the past three years. With the end of that grant, we are limited in what we can provide to each community. Schools—facing an uncertain financial picture and limited resources—cannot fully fund our work. Your generosity is essential in making sure that our in-school and out-of-school programming is possible. SafeArt made a difference in my life, and we need your generous support to ensure that SafeArt continues to create positive change.

Please consider making a donation to SafeArt today to help run these and other programs. Your support makes the difference!