When 10-year-old Virginia Brooks wrote her letter to Santa Claus this year, she had an unselfish request.
“This year for Christmas, I would like a Merry Christmas for everyone,” the Brookstone School fourth grader started her hand-written note to Santa.
She did not ask for a long list of gifts for herself. In fact, she asked for nothing for herself. Instead she asked Santa to bring art supplies for her friends like Max, Shorty and Bobby, all homeless people she has met this year.
Since June, Virginia and her family have been participating in “Home is Where the Art is,” a program in which local artists and students help guide and assist individuals in the homeless community to create their own art. The program is a partnership between the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries, Safe House at Rose Hill United Methodist Church and the Bo Bartlett Center.
“I get to paint, and see what others paint,” Virginia said Wednesday afternoon as she participated in the program’s Christmas painting party at the church. “They paint pretty pictures.”
Virginia is the daughter of Helen and Will Brooks. The entire family, including older sister, Mary Helen, and younger sister, Katie, is involved in the homeless art program. Helen, a local artist who has participated since its inception in the program started by Columbus native Bo Bartlett, recently posted a blog about her daughter’s request.
Helen, in her blog post, remembered what it was like over the summer when she started participating in the program, comparing it to “Alice in Wonderland.”
“I felt at that moment, a little bit like Alice, like I was quickly slipping down a rabbit hole into a world I did not know existed,” Helen wrote. “In reality though, I did know it existed. I just had chosen to turn a blind eye to it, not because I didn’t care, but because I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know how to reach men who slept on the streets without a place to call home.”
The experience has been uplifting, Helen wrote in her blog.
“After six months of pouring paint and washing brushes, and tripping over my tongue when I don’t know what to say or do, I don’t fear anymore,” she said. “Because I see that every man’s need is really the same. One simply needs to hear, I value you. I value you enough to keep coming week after week even if I don’t understand your world. I value you enough to look into your phone and see the drawings you made outside of the class. And I value you enough to listen to the pain that’s coming out onto canvas from losing a child to drugs. And I value you enough to teach you.”
This Christmas season, Virginia’s letter to Santa has touched her family.
“She has inspired me to do something,” Helen said.
That something is an “Upside Down” art sale in which Helen is selling her work and donating 90 percent of the proceeds. To learn more about the sale, go to her blog at thepaintedrock.net.
“Although I know Santa Claus will deliver plenty of gifts Christmas morning for Virginia to take to ‘Home is Where the Art is,’ I have prayed about a way to personally say ‘yes’ to Virginia’s letter,” Helen Brooks wrote in her blog.
Neil Richardson, director of the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries, has watched with interest this year as Virginia has interacted with the homeless people in the program.
“Art has proved to be the equalizer,” Richardson said. “Nobody is a volunteer or a client, they are all here for the art. They are not here to fix somebody or fix some problem. They are here to paint.”
And that is where the magic has happened, Richardson said.
“That is how a 10-year-old girl can come into this environment and got to know people as people,” Richardson said. “You drop all of the labels once you get down to the person.”
Bartlett, who was working with about 15 homeless artists Wednesday, agreed with Richardson’s assessment.
“Children can look at things with fresh eyes,” he said. “It really is unbelievable and says a lot about their family.”