By Marianne Weesner
Visual arts major Jennifer Kukla takes her passion for art outside the studio and off campus as a volunteer art teacher at South Bend’s Center for Juvenile Justice. Through her outreach service she hopes to have a positive effect on the boys she instructs.
This isn’t the first time Kukla has been a volunteer for the correctional system. She began her journey in 2008 when she used her marketing skills to help a half-way house for women. After serving on the half-way house’s Board of Directors for a year, the director mentioned that they needed volunteer art teachers at the Center for Juvenile Justice. It wasn’t long before Kukla began teaching a weekly class at the center.
“At first, the boys are just glad to have an excuse to get off of their unit,” says Kukla. “They are not all that interested in doing art, but after a few weeks of being in the class, many of the boys really begin to enjoy the projects.”
Kukla does a variety of projects with the boys including drawing, coloring, and collage. She brings in objects, such as a bowl of plastic fruit for the boys to draw from direct observation. They have done optical illusion worksheets, drawn cartoon characters, and made collages expressing their interests. Kukla says, “I try to use holidays to do crafts, so last year we painted pumpkins, made a collage of things the boys were thankful for, and decorated Christmas cards.”
Volunteering at the center was not only beneficial to the boys at the center, but it also allowed Kukla to teach art, something she is passionate about. “I hope that the boys will realize that art is a great way to express themselves, and it is a healthy form of self-expression,” says Kukla. “I would much rather an angry teen scribble on a piece of paper for an hour in class than use that aggression to get into a fight.”
Kukla wants the boys to know that, “they have potential and their lives matter.” The boys she instructs at the center periodically change as residents are released or transferred. During the time she has with them she hopes that her instruction will help the boys realize, “they have made mistakes, but they can recover from them and move on to better their lives.”