Heidi Durham on the Nonprofit Art with Heart

For 20 years, Art with Heart has been an innovator helping kids build resilience, self-regulation and social-emotional skills to heal from Adverse Childhood Experiences. They use art-based, age appropriate, therapeutic activity books to help abused and traumatized kids heal. They have served 190,000 children so far and are on a mission to provide resources to at least 10 percent of the 35 million kids facing trauma in America in the next 10 years.

How did you get involved with Art with Heart?

After over a decade at Starbucks, a year in Ethiopia and two years working at a local brand strategy and design firm, I met our founder who was ready to pass the torch after 20 years. I was so impressed with what she had built. Motivated by the reality that 35 million kids are struggling with various adversities and inspired by the power of art to help kids heal by accessing the part of the brain where trauma is stored, I jumped at the chance to join. 

What sorts of kids participate? What types of traumas/adversities have they faced? 

Heidi Durham, Art With Heart CEO
Heidi Durham, Art With Heart CEO

Kids who take part in Art with Heart curriculum are often trying to cope with an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). These kids are not alone. A staggering 35 million American children are struggling with one or more ACEs; 28 percent are dealing with physical abuse, 27 percent with substance abuse, 20 percent with sexual abuse, 13 percent with domestic violence and 11 percent with emotional abuse. After exposure to ACEs, kids have twice the risk of heart disease, three times the risk of depression and a greater risk of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being victimized by violence. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network estimates that one in four kids has experienced a serious trauma by age 16—that’s eight children in a school class of 32. Eight kids who can’t pay attention, sit still long enough to read, or concentrate on the math problem on the chalkboard because their central nervous systems have been hijacked by traumatic stress. If they’re not helped, those eight kids can’t make up for lost time. They’re likely to be shuffled on to the next grade, labeled “disruptive” and isolated socially while struggling to cope with overwhelming emotions. Knowing so many children are struggling to cope with ACEs with no resources and not enough adults trained in trauma-sensitive interventions is what drives us. Their teachers, parents, family doctor and other caregivers are often at a loss for how to help. They may not understand the effects of trauma on a young, developing brain or have the skills to reach these kids. They may be too strapped for time and money to give kids what they truly need: trauma-sensitive, guided, therapeutic activities that help them safely express their challenging emotions and build resiliency skills for a healthier, happier future. 

What are some of the most powerful experiences you’ve had while interacting with the kids? 

Art with Heart is successful if kids finish an art project and feel like art is a coping strategy for them when faced with difficulty. There are so many stories of how art is a powerful tool to help kids through trauma. An 11-year-old said of the program, “Art helped me to get my feelings out on paper. Doing these actives let me know that there is someone out there in the world that has the same feelings as me.” A 16-year-old said, “Over the course of my life, I’ve experienced many negative emotions, there were some good ones as well. I have trouble expressing my emotions in a non-harmful way, so these art projects are a good way to express these emotions.”

Art With Heart painting activity

Why art? How does art reach a child when other things don’t?

Talking about trauma is difficult, in large part because it’s stored in the visual, nonverbal part of our brains. This is how creative expression has a unique role in healing—making art connects the head, heart and hands like no other method that exists. 

How can someone help?

Make a gift online. Come to an event. Volunteer.

You can learn more about Art with Heart’s curriculum, programs and how to get involved by visiting artwithheart.org.