A 10-year-old gave 1,500 art kits to kids in shelters and foster care during the pandemic

After seeing the kids’ happy faces, she wanted to do more. Chelsea pooled her allowance and tooth fairy money, and asked friends and relatives to check out her Amazon wish list. Donations started pouring in.

Between August and March, the Phaires made nearly 900 art kits for shelters and homes in various states. They drove from Danbury, Conn., where they live, to hand-deliver the packages. As part of the in-person deliveries, Chelsea gave an art lesson to the recipients of her kits, including a small presentation on why art is important to her.

“Whether I’m happy or sad, art is always there for me,” said Chelsea, who is in the fifth grade.

When the pandemic hit, her family decided it was more important than ever to provide as many art kits as possible to children in need. They made around 1,500 kits, which have been sent to kids in 12 states, her mother said. At first, the Phaire family was paying for all the shipping costs, but they eventually started a PayPal account to help with the mounting postage fees.

With the help of her parents, she now runs Chelsea’s Charity, an organization aimed at providing art supplies to children, particularly those who have endured hardship and trauma in their young lives.

For Chelsea, art is communication. She knows that a simple sketch, a carefully crafted painting or a glitter-covered canvas serves a powerful purpose in the life of a child.

The idea behind the initiative came to Chelsea after she was given an art kit by a family friend two years ago. Her mother told her to take good care of it, since many children don’t have any art supplies.

“This made me so sad,” said Chelsea, who then decided she wanted all kids to have access to basic art supplies.

“Chelsea always had a strong desire to start a charity and asked us about it from the time she was only 5 years old,” said Candace Phaire. “When she got a little older, my husband and I said yes.”

The materials from Chelsea’s Amazon wish list ship to her father’s office in New York City, and with the help of her younger brother Corey, 9, Chelsea organizes the products and divides them into separate containers to send to children in homeless shelters, foster care homes, and schools in need of additional support.

“It quickly became a family project,” Candace Phaire said. “Everybody has a role.”

The shelters and foster care services that have received the art kits have been grateful.

“The kids were just so excited, and it was a huge weight off the parents’ shoulders,” said Shana Carignan, development director at Families Moving Forward, the largest shelter for children and families experiencing homelessness in Durham, N.C.

The shelter, which regularly uses art therapy to help children cope with trauma, is no longer able to facilitate these programs due to coronavirus concerns. They used to share art supplies among the children.

“The kids were really missing this,” she said. “So, having their own art kits has been very helpful.”

Stacy Dewitt, the executive director of James Storehouse, which provides resources for youth in Los Angeles entering the foster care system, received 50 kits from Chelsea’s Charity last week.

“Children who enter the foster care system typically have no belongings, which is traumatic for them,” she said. “It is so nice to be able to give them something extra, especially because art is very therapeutic for processing emotions.”

Foster parents, too, said the kits are particularly useful for occupying the kids, and allowing them to channel their energy in a positive way.

“These art kits have helped caregivers, particularly those with new foster placements, engage in conversation with the kids in a safe way that builds trust,” Dewitt said.

Chelsea’s Charity communicates directly with shelters and organizations to offer supplies, but recently, families in need have also started reaching out to the Phaires.

“I had a foster mom contact us personally today,” Candance Phaire said this week. “We are sending her some kits tomorrow.”

Candace Phaire, who is a professor of early-childhood education at Central Connecticut State University, believes art plays an important role in the emotional development in children.

Recently, Chelsea’s class had plans for a field trip, and she was counting down the days with excitement. But when the students were told the trip was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Chelsea grabbed her own art kit to cope with her disappointment.

“Art helps me communicate when I can’t express myself,” she said. “Art is my voice.”

With more free time lately, she has also started a “Chat with Chelsea” initiative, facilitating weekly interviews on Instagram Live with different artists.

She’s already chatted with Nikkolas Smith — children’s book author and illustrator at Walt Disney Imagineering, as well as Kathy Cano-Murillo, the chief executive of The Crafty Chica, and Najee Dorsey, the founder of Black Art In America, among others.

Beyond providing art supplies to children across the nation, Chelsea has high hopes to expand her charity around the world.

“I think if every child had access to art supplies, it would make the world a much better place,” she said.

This story has been updated to reflect that the packages from Chelsea’s Amazon with list are delivered to her father’s office in New York City.

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