A passionate artist, Ava Pakravan understands the healing power of art. Now, the Honolulu teen is bringing the healing power of art to other young people across her hometown. As the Founder of the nonprofit Art2Wellness Inc., Ava works to ensure that children, particularly those living in shelters, staying in hospitals or facing other difficult circumstances, have access to art education and supplies. Read on to learn how Ava is making a difference in her community.
What inspires you to volunteer?
When I was much younger, my little brother had a seizure. My parents picked me up from school, and we rushed to the hospital. I remember being confused, not knowing what’s going on. When I saw my brother, I thought about how sad he looked and wondered how I could make my brother feel better. Since I’d been picked up from school all I had on me was my school backpack. There wasn’t much there that I could use to cheer him up, except for two crayons. I gave him the crayons and asked him to draw whatever his heart desired. He drew a sun and immediately started smiling. Even then I understood that art could heal, and this has been the inspiration for creating an organization that supports art as therapy.
Tell us about your volunteer role with ART2Wellness.
I am the founder and president of Art2Wellness. I’ve been a passionate artist since age 4 and today, I help ensure that kids, particularly those who are in shelters or hospitals or face other hardships, have access to art education and art supplies as a way to encourage them to express themselves and process difficult emotions.
I lead art classes for kids. Some of these are YouTube tutorials and some are interactive sessions that are either in-person or via Zoom.
I have also been active politically. I participated in Girls State, which is a mock government program for high school girls. Then, I was selected as one of two girls from Hawaii to attend Girls Nation which is a federal-level mock government program. Being accepted to Girls Nation is one of the most meaningful honors I’ve ever gotten. Participating in Girls Nation gave me the opportunity to talk to other girls who had a similar mission. I developed an understanding of the nation’s mental health crisis as well as the skills to write a bill.
I authored a bill called “The Low-Income Planned Housing Act” which increases the possibility of developing more affordable housing while controlling skyrocketing real estate prices in Hawaii. The bill would increase taxes on luxury real estate transactions and the proceeds would go toward funding affordable housing to ease the state’s homelessness crisis. The bill is currently under review with the Hawaii state legislature for passage.
We have partnered with seven institutions, including homeless shelters, orphanages, schools, support groups and hospitals. We donate prepackaged art kits to these organizations. These kits contain a mix of used and new art supplies. For example, we collect crayons and either sharpen them or melt them down and reshape them. We also collect used canvases and paint them white, literally creating a “blank canvas” so every child recipient has usable supplies.
I applied for a Google Grant which contributes about $10,000 a month to advertise Art2Wellness on Google. This has helped us gain a lot of traction in the public eye. We currently have 150 volunteers in Hawaii, mostly in grades 4-12 and we have raised over $12,000 to fund our programs.
I work with therapists who teach our online classes. The therapist introduces a wellness value, such as bravery or resilience. Then, depending on the type of class, the child is encouraged to create art. Sometimes, the kids are guided toward expressing their feelings through art, and sometimes they are simply encouraged to create.
I am also running Art2Wellness’ 1,000 Card Project. This is the process of having kids create caring, hopeful cards that they will give to children in hospitals or shelters. We do this through the Art Pals program.
Art2Wellness has self-published a coloring book called “Wellness Coloring Book: For Youth, by Youth.” This book is available on Amazon and the proceeds help fund Art2Wellness.
What are your long-term goals for Art2Wellness?
I hope to take Art2Wellness with me to the state where I will attend college. Mental health and homelessness is a nationwide problem. I also hope to keep Art2Wellness going strong in Hawaii by having younger underclassmen run the local chapter. My ultimate goal is to expand internationally. Right now, we are partnering with an orphanage in Bhutan. Even though it’s billed as the happiest country in the world, there are still kids in Bhutan that are suffering.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The best part is sitting with kids making art at a hospital or shelter. It is heartwarming when they call me Aunty Ava and say they love me. It really reaffirms my passion to support these kids using something I’m so passionate about.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
One of the biggest takeaways from running a nonprofit is the importance of being self-sustainable. We can’t always rely on grants or donations. I got a lot of inspiration from Professor Steve Blank, one of the authors of the Mission Model Canvas. He outlined ways to run a nonprofit without a constant influx of money. I learned how to keep our head above water without relying on outside sources. One of those ways is through the proceeds of my coloring book.
Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.
We are doing a holiday art kit donation for our partners. We are also busy on the 1,000 Card Project. Kids create these cards in an art class, and then give them to kids who are in shelters or hospitals. Any kids who want to participate are welcome!
Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
I really believe that as citizens of the United States of America, it’s our civic duty to get involved in the places that have supported us. It’s important to step up and embrace civic duty so we all do a part in bettering people’s lives. What we do is only a slice of the pie in improving Hawaii so the more people who get involved, the better, and not just with Art2Wellness but other initiatives. With lots of hands, we can take steps to create a better society for everyone.
Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?
Do lots of research and inform yourself about a problem before you start to develop a project or solution. People often drown in wanting to help because “help” is so general and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Narrow down what you want to see improved. Identify who you want to help. If you empathize with the problem and the audience your efforts will be more impactful.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Art is not just something people do for fun. Yes, it’s a hobby, but the meaning behind art is a form of communication and therapy. It helps kids articulate emotions and recover from hardship. Art is powerful in healing.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Ava? Find local volunteer opportunities.