Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Graduation Day! SOHO 2011 Looks Back on a Very Good Year

Thursday, June 2nd was the SOHO Graduation ceremony. This year's class of growing girls stepped up to the podium one by one, reciting their carefully-planned speeches and rehashing their favorite memories from the program. 

Seated to the side watching proudly was Ali Wunder, the Art Camp and Outreach Coordinator for The Art League. This was her first year with SOHO, so naturally, she ended up learning just as many life lessons as she taught the girls. 

"Despite the difficulties that many of them have in life, once they get going on a project, they are totally focused and involved," she says.

Early on, the girls personalized aprons for use in their many art projects. 
Graduation was a display of lessons learned in the SOHO program, starting with the speeches; a lesson which Wunder says the group practiced diligently. "Learning to speak in front of big groups is a very important life skill," she says. "Each speech is totally different because they are all talking about what they learned and what they liked best." 

Also on the agenda was a video of the bedroom transformations. Before and after shots, along with the girls' reactions upon seeing their new rooms for the first time, were huge crowd-pleasers, as the hard work and progress were laid out in full-color film. Family and friends let out their "oohs" and "ahhs" in approval. 

Wunder was also excited about the art exhibit showing in conjunction with the ceremony. "This is family time for the girls," she says. "This is their chance to show everyone what they accomplished; the rooms, the art work, the new skills." 
And there are the aprons! The color theory classes taught girls to design their own compositions and color schemes.

The life skills learned in SOHO range from specific (color coordination) to far-reaching (nutrition). The list seems to cover every corner of a growing girl's curiosity: puberty, drugs and crime, budgeting, etiquette, and family dynamics are also included. 

"Dinner time with the program is important and really one of the nicest times of the day," says Wunder. "Aside from learning things like portion control, table manners and balanced meals, the girls see that sitting down to a meal is a great way to connect." The program uses the dinners to show the students that it is a social, intimate time where they can talk about the day with loved ones. The mentors, though not actual family, make a point to show interest in the girls' conversations, creating that feeling of comfort during meal time and taking an active interest in the girls as individuals.
Community service is a big part of the SOHO mantra. 

A "before" shot of a bedroom...

...and the after!
 Reactions from the girls' families have been all-around positive, says Wunder. "They are there in the houses while the girls work on their bedrooms," she says. "So they see how devoted the girls are to the project. It's been a great response." 

Late afternoon on a fishing excursion during one of SOHO's camping trips

group shot, four of the SOHO girls of 2011!
The benefits seem endless, so when asked to put the overall good of the program into a few words, Wunder had to stop and think for a moment. Then, finally, she said: "It gives them a sense of accomplishment. They have learned these life skills and applied them to something. Here, specifically, it's the room project. They created the color schemes, they painted the walls and furniture, and they made the art on the walls." 
Getting in touch with nature...

One of the rooms in progress! A fresh coat of paint makes such a big difference...
Before the transformation...

...and after!
While expanding on the program's process, Wunder doesn't neglect to mention the large community behind SOHO. "A lot of effort goes into this program each year," she says. "It's a team effort between The Art League, the people at court services and of course, the mentors. That multi-faceted partnership makes this whole experience possible." 

The Lamp Project: the girls use their creative skills to make beautiful shades for the rooms.

A job well done.

One of the SOHO girls proudly displays her handmade message board.
 There were several favorite projects, says Wunder, but a huge hit was Patrick Kirwin, an instructor at The Art League School, who helped the girls turn plain board into colorful room accents...with just some tape and paint! "They really had a great time with that," she says. "The group also loved the clay projects with Diana Morrow." 

The Art League School instructor Patrick Kirwin demonstrates tape painting as part of the SOHO "wall hanging" project. The large hand-painted boards hang in the girls' rooms as decorative accents. 
 Another crucial takeaway is the bond created between student and mentor. "They might not realize it right away," says Wunder. "But the relationship ends up being very important to them." The appreciation usually comes around this time of year, Wunder says, when graduation is right around the corner. "That's when the girls realize how much their mentors care about their progress because they've sacrificed so much to be here." 
Silk painting adds to the girls' design education. Look at that detail!

SOHO Class of 2011

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