The Free Arts 2024 Inspiring Creativity in Mentoring Symposium

On Saturday, April 20th, Free Arts hosted its 2024 Symposium in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, Gabriel’s Angels, and New Pathways for Youth. Under the theme, Inspiring Creativity in Mentoring, nearly 200 youth care workers, partner agency employees, artists, educators, and youth mentors gathered for a creative and engaging artistic learning experience. The list of guest speakers included an impressive roster of knowledgeable professionals from varying disciplines. This year’s lineup included psychologists, musicians, educators, non-profit executives, advocates, holistic practitioners, a veterinarian, and Phinley, Therapy Dog Extraordinaire.

The day began with a plenary experiential art session led by Free Arts teaching artists, Frank Thompson and Folade entitled, “Community Music Making with Found Sounds.” Through a combination of dance, chanting, and the rhythmic sounds of various instruments, attendees connected with one another by making pulsating beats while discussing their experiences with mentoring. Though the room was filled with the powerful sounds of drumsticks, rattles, and shakers, there were also bells chiming softly to help awaken the body, mind, and soul. According to Frank, the subtle chime is a reminder of the importance of hearing the softest voice in the room when mentoring. The opening plenary session ended with a joyous and explosive freestyle dance where attendees were able to embrace cathartic movement! Afterwards, Terra Schaad, founder of Hunkapi Farm conducted somatic exercises and spoke on the value of human experiences. She reminded the audience that negative experiences are part of being human, and that being human grants us the capacity to heal with others. We do not have to be “whole” to help someone else heal from their trauma.

Symposium guests then participated in various breakout sessions. Each learning opportunity correlated with one of the three sub-themes: Cultivating Community, Inspiring Creativity, or Strengthening Futures. There were four morning sessions for attendees to choose from: Unity in Mentoring: Crafting Collaborative Communities (Briana Clark and Mark Garcia), Embracing Authenticity: LGBTQIA2S+ Journey of Self-Discovery Through Mentorship (Evangelina Siler), Cross-Cultural Mentoring (Jenna Christie-Tabron), and Returning to the Whole Person: Healing the Wounds Caused by Social Expectations (Matt Sandoval). Information provided in these sessions covered a variety of topics including, youth empowerment through shared experiences and community building, the power of personal narratives in relation to personal growth and mentorship, exploring the ways in which culture impacts the mentoring process, and how societal and cultural values around gender affect the way we experience and express emotions.

This year Free Arts also held a panel discussion on the Art of Mentoring. With Free Arts Volunteer Manager, TJ Giest as the moderator, panelists discussed the transformative nature of mentoring including how to be a good mentee/ mentor and the importance of using active listening skills and trust to foster a safe, secure and open-minded connection. The panel was comprised of both former mentees and mentors to provide attendees with differing perspectives on how to build a positive mentoring relationship.

The afternoon was filled was another round of insightful and engaging workshops, Dreamweavers: Nurturing Holistic Youth Development Through Creative Goal Setting (Briana Clark & Alejandra Ruiz), Mentoring Beyond the Human: The Power of Pet Therapy (Kelli Stark, Annette Bouwer & Phinley), Harmony Within: A Holistic Guide to Self-Care and Inner Peace through Breath, Sound, and Yoga (Alyssa Rodriguez), and Talking with Teens (Amy Jacober). Together these topics covered holistic mentoring through goal setting across multiple domains, the transformative impact of pet therapy, the healing and resilience-building power of breathing techniques, sound baths, and yoga, and effective communication strategies from a trauma-informed perspective.

Attendees then reconvened for another plenary session, The Pursuit of Wellness and Wholeness (Darryl Tonemah) which focused on the integration of body centered practices and psychology techniques to empower individuals towards resilience. This session offered a compassionate reminder that the children we work with often borrow our safety, and even when we don’t have the energy, we find ways to cope to offer that safety anyway.

Additional highlights of the day included trauma-informed art activities for attendees to decompress and regulate their emotions as needed including journal decorating and a Bravery Bead bracelet making station. The final plenary movement session led by Choreographer, Educator and Storyteller, Niamey Thomas.

However, the real stars of the show were our furry friends at the pet therapy regulation stations led by Gabriel’s Angels! Attendees were able to interact with Mojo (golden doodle), Bella (shih tzu), Charlie (labrador retriever), Toby Jack (labrador retriever), Dozer (labrador retriever), Ardee (golden retriever), and Phinley (golden retriever) to self-regulate and improve their overall mood throughout the day if needed.

The 2024 Symposium was a day of creativity, joy, expression, inspiration, and resilience-building. There was space for connection, learning, self-discovery, and inner-child healing. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide such a transformative experience for our children, families, and community! Follow our social media for more information on Free Arts events, programs, and how to get involved. We hope to see you at next year’s Symposium!

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