The Art of Volunteering

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Paul Glenshaw likes to say he has lots of paying gigs: artist, drawing instructor, filmmaker, author. About a year ago, he decided he wanted a “volunteer gig” that would draw on his creative skills but also as he says, “practically accomplish something. At the Smithsonian, I teach art to people who can afford it.” Glenshaw says. “So, I wanted to find a volunteer opportunity to teach art to those who otherwise would not be able” to have lessons.

Glenshaw has taught people of all ages, but teenagers have always been the age he enjoys most. His research and the advice of others led him last September to The National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) Greentree Adolescent Program (GAP) for teenage boys. He reached out to NCCF staff who said, “if you are willing to try, we are.” And thus, was born Glenshaw’s weekly Monday 5:30 -6:30 evening art classes for GAP residents.

“I wasn’t sure what would happen,” says Glenshaw. “I sketched out a series of lessons not knowing the boys or where it would fit into the program overall. I drafted something like what I teach beginners at the Smithsonian.” He quickly realized GAP was a very fluid situation as to who shows up or could show up. With the help of NCCF staff, he revised his plan to make it more informal.

Every other week, he does a lesson, and the boys start a project. On alternate weeks, they have an open draw. “I bring in materials and show them things on an iPad,” Glenshaw explains. “We talk and they draw. If they have a problem, I help them out. I want it to be a good time. I tell them don’t worry about a mistake. It is just a piece of paper,” Amin “Drew” Dallal, GAP’s recreational specialist, says there is a rotating group of 3 to 7 boys who come Monday nights. “We have lots of resources for athletics, or the religious aspect, but very rarely do they have a creative or artistic outlet.”

The sessions are not just about methodology. The boys are creating personal logos and, Glenshaw is talking to a muralist about doing some kind of decorating work on the dorms to make them more inspiring, Glenshaw also has taught them how to do self-portraits, and he made portraits of each of the boys to keep.

Glenshaw doesn’t just give his time on Mondays. He takes the boys on regular field trips. They have been to a Smithsonian museum, visited a muralist who is working on a piece for Dupont Circle, and because of his special interest in aviation, he took the boys to the Udvar-Hazy Space Center near Dulles Airport.

Dallal says a lot of time volunteers “are very interested in having the boys gain the knowledge they wish them to gain. What is really effective with Paul is that he allows them to be themselves. He doesn’t push a curriculum and allows them to participate as much as they want.” Dallal says the sessions don’t feel like work to them. “Paul is so encouraging. They want to do well for him. He is a friendly adult figure.”

The boys have different reasons for coming on Monday nights, according to Dallal. “Some go because they like to draw. Those who want to just enjoy being there get a sense of community… The aspiring artists ask him lots of technical questions. His presence is a catalyst for them pursuing art but also helps them believe this is possible.” The weekly sessions feature a lot of conversations and telling stories, Dallal says. “Paul talks about his history as an artist and his teaching background…but we also talking about life. The boys listen to whatever advice he has. They are very receptive to him because he is very engaging and not forceful.”

For his part, Glenshaw says the weekly conversations are lively and interesting. “They are smart guys. I find them to be quite curious. We have conversations about all sorts of stuff, from superheroes to the election,” he notes. He downplays his role, but Dallal says Glenshaw supplies all the materials and sometimes brings extra supplies so the residents can take them back to their dorms and draw. And he is buying used art books to build a library for the GAP residents.

Glenshaw, who started drawing seriously when he was 14, says his high school art teacher had a positive and big influence on him. “I am a huge believer in education in the arts as one of the most solid foundations you can get. Art gave me a big anchor in high school.” Luckily for the GAP program, he is continuing that tradition.

AUTHOR

Diana Huffman

Diana Huffman is a long-time journalist who has also worked on Capitol Hill and taught journalism at the University of Maryland. In her spare time, Diana volunteers with NCCF.

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