A friend and I were on a road trip in August of 2011. We talked about everything under the sun, from personal lives to hopes and dreams for the future. She told me that she wanted to visit terminal children in the hospital and have them tell her a story. She'd write it down and make it into a book, giving them a creative outlet even while their bodies were being ravaged by disease. She wanted to show them they could still make something, they could use their imaginations and escape in some small way.
Three months later, I started volunteering at SRVS. I helped out with the art program, which meant I distributed paper, paint, and brushes to the plethora of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities lined up at cafeteria tables - we were a little overwhelmed initially, with about 20 clients and three teachers. As time wore on, I stole moments to sit beside them and talk about their paintings.
We described animals and the individual would paint them; we'd make the animal's noises when the picture was complete. Some clients worked better when given an example; I'd try to paint my own version of whatever they wanted to draw themselves. (Despite being a graphic designer and volunteering with the art program, my drawing skills are somewhat lacking.) Usually, thankfully!, they requested simpler things: animals, fruits, landscapes with birds soaring over the trees.
I got to know these people as individuals, but I wanted to understand how their minds worked. I wanted to know their stories. My friend's idea had stuck with me since the year before, and I knew I wanted to implement it in this setting, but I had no clue how. I spoke with administrators at the organization, told them what I wanted to do, and they gave me their blessings. But I didn't know what to do - where to start, what the purpose would be, and how I would reach the finish line.
It wasn't until January 2013 that I felt ready to start the project. (And I use the term "ready" loosely - I was incredibly nervous, for no real reason.) I now see that was the best possible thing I could do - wait. Get to know the clients, familiarize myself with their personalities, their conditions, their daily lives. Really try to understand where they're coming from and what they're going through before I sit down with them and ask them to write and illustrate a story for me.
I started on January 8th, so I'm still learning about the whole project. It's a lot to take on, but I have the enthusiasm to make it work, and thankfully everyone at SRVS has been incredibly excited and encouraging with helping me make this happen.