by Andrea Beloff

On Valentine’s Day I had arranged to give Melissa Mierendorff’s class, a group of immigrant students at the Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology, a memorable painting class on boundless and eternal-flowing love.

These teens have been given classrooms at this campus because Collier County was unable to place them in ordinary schools because of their age and level of English. Melissa asked her mom if she knew of an art teacher who would donate some time to give these kids a break from the mentally hard work that they put in each day learning school subjects in English. Through the grapevine she found me and together we have developed a beautiful, ongoing relationship.

In my work of the past several years, I mostly feel and pray my way through painting. During my transition from papermaker to painter, I developed the “Paint Your Heart Out” workshops to provide an outlet for all ages to pour their intentions, their struggles, their pain, and their feelings into one-of-a-kind molded hearts they make from paper shopping bags.

This group of teens did the project from scratch to finish and they got it right away. They understood – or gave it their best shot to try to grasp – the concept of painting through feeling. The workshops have a process, no doubt, that addresses each one individually and gives participants an opportunity to think, feel, write down their feelings and intentions, and then to use that channel to paint through. They were so excited after they finished the first project! They hung up all their hearts in the halls and got so much attention from the whole college. They were even written up about in the school’s newsletter.

At the next workshop on peace, called “Peace Out”, they again created their own templates under my supervision, they gathered their thoughts and feelings about peace, and then painted again.

After each class, I ask them to share their projects (see photos). These teens are so fervent about inner life that I feel that this outlet has done wonders for them. Some of them are showing great desire to be artists! The workshops have served these students well: they are finding out about themselves and are learning to have a voice through art.

They love the day when I come in with my bubbly energy and speak to them in their native languages. On Valentine’s Day they had no idea of what I was going to ask them to do, and they awaited the day with great anticipation. Using the theme of boundless and eternal-flowing love, I asked them to really tap into the feeling of love, the feeling of the flow involved in having an open heart, and loving with no boundaries. The works of art they created were heart-warming.

Remember, these teens are from all over the world: Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala, and Ecuador to name a few. You can imagine the hardships they have endured and the reasons they are here, let alone being thrown into another culture with another language. I understand this, as I also came to America after growing up in Brazil and having Argentinean parents. Even though I was born in the U.S., I have great compassion for the immigrant people and their challenges. I have grown to love these teens and I give these art classes truly from the heart.