Free Arts LA is a program designed to encourage children that have experienced abuse, poverty or homelessness to express their feelings and restore hope through art.
The program reaches more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles each year with nearly 200 adult volunteer mentors.
Free Arts LA was established in the late 1970s to connect children in foster care with art. It has since grown and has partnered with domestic violence and homeless shelters, Children's Court and the Mar Vista Gardens Public Housing Community.
Children are assigned to paint on blank canvases, but first, they do a bit of meditation.
Mentors are trained to use art as a way to empower and uplift these kids so they can discover their strengths and resilience.
The mentors are hoping the kids will open their eyes wide and their imaginations even wider.
For some kids, visualizing a bright future is simple. But for others, there's some difficulty in dreaming.
"Some of the things they're going through are probably really hard and impossible to talk about," said Brianna Kozlarek, an adult mentor.
Free Arts LA Executive Director Sara Ford said the program hopes to connect children with the ability to be care free again.
"All these children are in situations where, perhaps, their ability to be care free, imagine and play like normal children has been taken away, not by their choice, but by experience," said Ford.
And for some children, art will create and open that safe space for them to express their emotions freely without a stroke of judgment.
"When I'm sad or mad I just get a paper and draw how I feel," said 8-year-old Daja Williams.
Kozlarek says many of the kids walked into the program only 12 weeks earlier, but they walk out refocused, renewed and rewarded--developing the connection with art that sparks a tangible transformation.
"We really see them come to life, open up and see them be so happy and excited to create," Kozlarek said. "Being around kids who you know have been through really rough times and the fact that they'll able to find joy and beauty in everyday life, I don't know, just makes the tough things disappear."