When she was 13 years old, Julia Lawrence stayed in the hospital for two weeks following surgery, an experience she found “very scary.” What made her stay easier to bear was drawing pictures with the art supplies Lawrence’s mother brought her.
“Doing art gave me a normal sense of life,” Lawrence said. “I felt like I was at home drawing. It also helped me bond with other kids. I could draw and we could draw together.”
Once out of the hospital, Lawrence never forgot what a difference having art supplies made for her, and in her senior year at Peninsula High, she created Healing Paintbrushes, a way for her to donate art kits and projects to children in the hospital.
Today, the 19-year-old Rolling Hills Estates resident and PENHI graduate often donates art kits to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, but she’s hoping to make a greater impact — something that would be possible if she wins an online competition.
Lawrence is a finalist in two categories in Adobe Youth Voices Aspire Awards contest, and a win in either category (or both) would give her thousands of dollars to spend on children in the hospital.
The Aspire Awards invites young people to submit photo essays, music videos or other forms of visual storytelling in which they explore issues that are important to them. Lawrence is a finalist in the Poetry category, one of eight award categories; in addition, she’s a finalist in the ninth category of the Aspire Awards, the UNICEF Challenge, which invites entrants to describe a project they have created or want to launch in their own community.
Lawrence sent a video of her hopes for Healing Paintbrushes. During the video, Lawrence completes several drawings while narrating her ideas. Not only does she want to send art kits to young patients, she wants to send electronic tablets that will help them complete homework assignments, and eventually she wants to create a mentoring program for kids after they leave the hospital.
“Art is something universal, a healing process,” Lawrence said. “Being around kids and seeing them do art, it’s great for kids to experience that. They should have access to that, especially in the hospital.”
She also wants to create activities that incorporate parents and siblings into the hospital experience, such as a parent-sibling day to do an art project.
“When a child sees their parents and siblings together, smiling, it helps them heal,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence has made a special effort to create art projects that children could do while in bed. For one project, she glued a layer of Legos to the outside of a clear box. Inside the box were loose Legos that could be attached to the stationary layer, giving patients a base for their creations.
“A lot of toys aren’t hospital-bed friendly, so I had to come up with ideas for what the children could do,” she said. She also had to take into account the different age groups and their interests.
“No one ever talks about kids in the hospital,” Lawrence said. “It frustrated me, because many hospitals don’t have art supplies, they’re just trying to give kids all the medical care they need.”
In her effort to offer help to child patients, Lawrence met with Gina Jones, child life specialist, pediatrics, at Torrance Memorial Medical Center.
“She has been a great mentor, kind and smart,” Lawrence said.
Jones in turn has been impressed with Lawrence’s desire to make a difference. In her work, Jones tries to make the hospital experience the best it can be for a child, using techniques like therapeutic play or simply talking kids through what they can expect during a medical procedure. The art supplies Lawrence sent were well received by the children.
“She was always right on with her art projects,” Jones said. “The children in the hospital want to have normalcy within their day and do the things they’d do at home. Art is part of that.”
Lawrence’s projects included decorating masks with feathers and beads, or providing a plain fabric bag that patients could personalize with paint or beads. She’d provide a photo or sample to get the kids inspired.
“I’m looking forward to the contest results,” Jones said. “I’ll cross my fingers and hope she gets this. It could be spread out to include other hospitals.”
Lawrence is encouraging the community to visit the Aspire Awards website and cast their votes to support Healing Paintbrushes. Winners are determined by votes on social media platforms and also by a panel of judges.
Win or lose, though, Lawrence won’t give up on her dream.
“If you want to help people, you can, if you really push for it,” she said. “If I don’t win the contest, I’ll figure some way out. It’s not a last step. No matter what, I’ll figure out other ways and always keep trying.”
To cast your vote for Julia Lawrence’s Healing Paintbrushes project, visit http://youthvoices.adobe.com/awards/finalists/51757d938d5362a438000046, then click on the Facebook or Twitter button. Each Like, Share, Tweet and Retweet counts as a vote. The deadline for voting is June 8. To see examples of Julia Lawrence’s artwork and the links to both of Lawrence’s Aspire Awards entries, visit www.julialawrenceart.com.
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