RSVP Volunteer Cultivating Connectedness Through Art

A dinosaur art created by Judy Hart, a RSVP volunteer in Dickinson County, to connect with a first grader.

Since the start of the pandemic, RSVP volunteers have been unable to join elementary students in their classrooms to provide reading assistance, mentoring, and companionship. Volunteers and volunteer coordinators continue finding new ways to be there for the students and offer inter-generational contact and mentoring. One unexpected connection between an RSVP volunteer in Dickinson County and a first grader at Okoboji Elementary School warms the heart through art.

Judy Hart, RSVP Volunteer, from Milford told DeNeitt VanDenBroeke, the Dickinson County RSVP Coordinator, that she had been using her artistic skills to help her 3-year-old great-grandson cope with the loss of socialization with his peers due to the pandemic.

“He was so sad, and he told me, ‘I don’t have any friends,’” explained Hart. Wanting to lift her great-grandson’s spirits with something to look forward to, Hart began drawing intentionally goofy dinosaurs. Realizing how much of an impact the drawings were having on her great-grandson, Hart offered to do the same for any other young child who had similar problems or who were struggling to socialize.

VanDenBroeke loved the idea and reached out to the school counselor from Okoboji Elementary School. The counselor found the perfect student for Hart’s artistic drawings, a first grader fascinated with dinosaurs who felt like he had no friends. Hart began sending hand-drawn dinosaur pictures to the student in October of 2020, along with notes of encouragement and friendship, spending an average of 3 to 5 hours per month on the project. The student loves the personalized drawings and letters and has written a thank you note back. Hart says that the illustrations have also helped the days and hours go by for her during this time.

“The school counselor tells me that the student ‘lights up’ when they open the envelopes. He looks forward to seeing the pictures and is in awe of each picture. He thinks she is just such a great artist, and he is becoming more interested in creating art himself. The art has also helped the student be more comfortable and share more openly. This connection has been a wonderful experience for everyone involved,” shared VanDenBroeke.

If you are age 55+ and have artistic or other skills that you think might benefit local youth in your area, reach out to your county’s RSVP Coordinator to let them know. The time and talents you share can make a difference in a child’s life!

Please contact the RSVP office at your nearest Iowa Lakes Community College campus to learn more and begin your RSVP volunteer journey.

AmeriCorps, the federal agency and parent organization for the RSVP program, brings people together to tackle the country’s most pressing challenges through national service and volunteering. AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Senior volunteers serve with organizations dedicated to the improvement of communities. AmeriCorps helps make service to others a cornerstone of our national culture. Learn more at AmeriCorps.gov.

Northwest Iowa RSVP has been meeting community needs in partnership with Iowa Lakes Community College since 1977.

A photo of dinosaur art created by Judy Hart, a RSVP volunteer in Dickinson County, to connect with a first grader.

Another dinosaur drawing created by Judy Hart, RSVP volunteer, to connect with Okoboji first grader.

Another dinosaur drawing created by Judy Hart, RSVP volunteer, to connect with Okoboji first grader.

A hand-drawn dinosaur illustration sent to Okoboji Elementary School student by RSVP Volunteer Judy Hart.

A hand-drawn dinosaur illustration sent to Okoboji Elementary School student by RSVP Volunteer Judy Hart.

A dinosaur art created by Judy Hart, a RSVP volunteer in Dickinson County, to connect with a first grader.

A photo of dinosaur art created by Judy Hart, a RSVP volunteer in Dickinson County, to connect with a first grader.

For More Information: RSVP Coordinator Dawn Bernhard at 515-295-8522 or dbernhard@iowalakes.educreate new email