Helping kids be all that they can be: Art Among Friends.

In the basement of artist Shirley Levacy’s Winnipeg home, the Great Blue Art Studio is abuzz with creative energy and conversation.

Led by Shirley’s enthusiastic suggestions, three teens are painting together. Katie is a bright, outgoing girl who has taken art classes with Shirley since she was a young girl. It’s where she met Avery and Dominic — two teens living with intellectual disabilities.

Although reserved in her interactions, Avery is quick to share ideas in answer to Shirley’s engaging nature. And while Dominic is precise and focused on his work, he regularly exchanges smiles and laughter with Katie.

Art Among Friends

Winnipeggers’ support for United Way and an essential network that includes Community living Winnipeg is inspiring creative solutions for a safer, stronger city by making it possible for teens with and without disabilities to make friends while making art.

“They are learning to connect with other youth,” Shirley says. “The art has become a tool for communication.”

Creating opportunities for young people of all abilities to socialize, collaborate and express themselves through art is the goal of Art Among Friends, says coordinator Lisa Waldner.

Art Among Friends

And it wouldn’t be possible without Winnipeggers’ support for United Way’s partnership with Community Living Winnipeg. As a result, Community Living receives core, sustained funding it can rely on to plan and innovate with programs like this one.

The real impact can be seen in the faces of participants; kids who may never have met their kindred spirits, or discovered a love of art, had it not been for this program.

“Sometimes kids with a disability aren’t included in a group,” says Avery’s mom Carla.

“Here, Avery feels she is part of an art community and feeling part of something is so important. It gives her a sense of self-worth and purpose.

Dominic’s mom Rachelle echoes the sentiment: “These art classes allow Dominic to learn, to excel and create beautiful art pieces in a safe, positive, fun and inclusive environment.”

For Avery, Dominic and Katie, art is also a tool for kids to be all they can be.

In 2012, Art Among Friends participants showcased their work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. And with help from their parents, who’ve formed friendships of their own, Avery and Dominic have begun selling prints; an added source of pride as well as income.

For Katie, art will remain a beloved hobby and source of relaxation as she goes on to university to pursue a career in healthcare.