Thursday, November 12, 2015

Giving Youth a Voice Through Art

By Haddi Waggeh 

The Adolescent Diversion Program (ADP) at Midtown Community Court (MCC) was created to better serve 16- and 17-year-olds, whose cases would typically be heard in a traditional criminal court. ADP utilizes alternative sentencing, including community service and social services, to better address the specific needs of adolescents. One way in which ADP tailors services to adolescents is by providing them with community service opportunities that are meaningful, youth-friendly, and ultimately empowering. 

Our Groundswell project provides a perfect example of such an opportunity. Over the past several months, youth from ADP engaged in a community service project with Groundswell, a nonprofit organization that brings together artists, youth, and community organizations to use art as a tool for social change. Together with MCC staff, Groundswell provided weekly service opportunities to ADP youth as part of a large mural project. Funding from a member of the New York City Council, Helen Rosenthal, made this opportunity possible. 

Midtown Community Court's four Groundswell Murals

The project’s goal was to create a mural that would welcome visitors to MCC’s social services space. The youth spent the first few weeks working with their peers, the talented staff at Groundswell, and professional artist Gina Goico (working pro bono) to discuss the communities in which they live, how their choices impact their communities, and brainstorming various design concepts. From these discussions, the youth decided to create four mural panels that reflect what they felt are Midtown Community Court’s underlying themes– community, safe space, transformation, and realization.

Once the concept was finalized, the participants began painting the concepts of the mural. Six weeks (and many hours of diligent effort) later, the mural panels were complete and ready to be presented to the community. On May 28th, a ceremony took place at Groundswell to display the hard work of the participants. The Murals are now displayed in the public spaces at the Midtown Community Court. 

Opportunities like this one broaden our youth’s understanding of service. It is viewed as something that is worthwhile and has a positive impact on the community. Such opportunities are beneficial and developmentally appropriate for youth. Numerous ADP defendants have chosen to remain engaged voluntarily with Groundswell after completion of mandates. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Groundswell and hope to forge additional relationships with supportive and affirming partners in the community that will benefit our ADP youth.