As a young artist I often frequented the artist gallery website, DeviantArt, and feasted my eyes upon the inspiring works of people from around the world. I was probably eleven when I first came across K’Cha Kicks, a small business that painted custom Vans. The owner and artist, Katie Chabolla, is only a few years older than me and at the time was pioneering her entrepreneurial success at the ripe age of fifteen. She started doing volunteer work and sharing her gift with some kids that could really use some cheering up in hospital she herself was once a patient. Something about her story had always resonated with me and years later I still remember the first time I saw her work, read her story, and was inspired to use my talents to give back in some way.
I started at TAG, a branding agency in the Quad Cities, only a week and a half after I graduated from Iowa State. I always kept myself busy in college with extracurriculars and a demanding course load. It seemed like I was always in studio, working on projects, trying to get in hours at work, or catching up on what little sleep I could. Life went from constant stress to complete freedom seemingly overnight once I moved. Several friends from college grew up in the area but slowly moved away to their own post-grad jobs over the summer and I found myself with ample free time I hadn’t experienced in close to five years. What do people without homework do? There was finally time in my life to volunteer without feeling like I had to sacrifice in some other area of my life. The only real question was where do I even begin? I began to reach out to local areas of need via email.
Drawing caricatures at an amusement park for two summers really opened my eyes to how much children value those drawings. The process is fascinating to a first time viewer and children from less-than-stellar situations were always the most mystified. Coming from a low-income family, it’s pretty easy to spot income brackets and it’s especially easy in an environment hell-bent on convincing patrons to spend as much money as humanly possible. It always seemed to me that wealthier parents that forced their children to sit in front of the artists’ desks never really seemed as interested. My heart always broke when children would pass by and beg their parents to be drawn, but it always seemed that our prices were an in immediate turn off. The children that would have valued them the most never seemed to be the ones that got them. There’s also a great power in art that many seem to underestimate. I’ve drawn special-needs children who requested to be superheroes and little girls with self-esteem issues as princesses.
Back in July, I visited the pediatric intensive care unit of Children’s Hospital in Iowa City. I’d reached out via email to their Event Planners to see if they could find some use in a visit from me to draw caricatures. I was lucky enough that a particular long-term patient with a heart condition was involved in a program that had weekly-themed events. That fateful week in July was a carnival theme, and the stars aligned when I’d reached out. I don’t question coincidences like that and definitely valued the opportunity bestowed upon me. I sanitized and gloved up per hospital procedures and that patient was so happy to see her drawing when I turned my paper around. The truly heartbreaking part was how adult she seemed for only being eight years old. After seeing her drawing she immediately asked if I would draw her younger siblings. She was even happier to see their drawings. For being in dire need of a heart transplant; her heart seemed to be the biggest one I’d ever seen. She invited patients from the entire unit to her ‘carnival’, and I drew all sorts of patients and their families. A few weeks later I heard back from the Ronald McDonald house that supports the families of children in that very hospital. There, I drew for several families including a young mother whose twins had been born prematurely. The drawing I did of them was the first time they’d been in a ‘photo’ together.
Months later, Christmas rolls around in Davenport and at TAG our CEO, Mike Vondran, calls an all-staff meeting to announce that in lieu of our standard gifts he wanted to bestow each employee with a gift of $100 to pay it forward during the holidays. Finally, my stars had aligned once again and my gears immediately started turning towards K’Cha Kicks and the Iowa Children’s Hospital. I reached out yet again, this time to bestow a gift of custom painted shoes to however many patients might be interested. The response was almost immediate:
1. Female (10 yrs)- Size 3- Dark Purple – She loves the movie “Descendants”
2. Male (6 yrs) – size 3- Dark blue/red- Disney “Infinitely” characters
3. Male (4 yrs) – size 10 toddler- Green- Hulk
4. Female (18 months) – size 5 toddler- Pink and Gold- Golden doodle dogs
5. Female (11 months) – size 12 months- pink and purple
6. Female (11 months )- size 18 months- pink- Pink cowgirl/western theme
7. Female (15 yrs)- size 9 – Purple/Lime Green- Likes owls
I used the $100 to buy the initial several pairs of shoes and covered the rest of the expenses out of pocket. Below you’ll find a gallery of the shoes I painted:
All of these shoes and time were completely donated and free to all of the patients. Their situations are unfortunate to say the least, but I can say from personal experience and exchanges that the staff at the Iowa Children’s Hospital was incredibly invested in their patients’ care. I would never wish any sort of illness or harm to a child, but if the situation arises this particular hospital is the best to serve them. Even though these patients have been dealt a difficult hand, it’s cool to know that they’ve got a pair of shoes that are completely unique to them, that no one else in the world has. That’s pretty special.
If you’ve made it this far reading, I hope I’ve inspired inspired you in the way Katie Chabolla inspired me to give back so many years ago. If you think there’s some way I might be able to help you brainstorm an engaging art therapy project or your own non-profit is in need of my services, please reach out via the contact me tab at the top of this page or email me here.