4-H Art Program Brings Cheer to the Ill

Contact: Jon Prichard, (207) 324-2814; Laura Jaquays, (207) 251-4058

SPRINGVALE, Maine — A small but powerful 4-H art program coordinated by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s York County office in Springvale is bringing messages of cheer to patients at York Hospital Oncology Care and the Hospice of York.

Jon Prichard, an associate Extension professor, and Laura Jaquays, a community artist and educator from Ogunquit, lead “Happy Art.” Since 2005, they have worked with hundreds of Berwick Academy and area youth from first grade through high school to create thousands of art cards for seriously ill patients. The program is a part of Art HOPE (Healing Opportunities for People Everyday), a grassroots community initiative that brings the arts into healthcare, established by Jaquays at York Hospital Oncology Care, where she is the artist in residence.

“It’s been a wonderful thing,” says Jaquays, “how this small gesture of a small 5×7 card with a happy or a positive theme really helps people understand that the community really does care about them.”

Local youth in 4-H participate in after school programs and community venues to create Happy Art. Prichard and Jaquays also have used the 4-H booth at the York County Fair in Acton to reach prospective~young artists. They invite passing children to randomly stop and paint the cheery cards.

“We usually end up with baskets of hundreds of these cards,” he says. “When I was at Berwick Academy last, these young second- and third-graders were so enthusiastic and excited. As much as they enjoyed creating the art, they were even more excited to know that they were helping people with illnesses.”

Jaquays says the program is a good experience for kids who learn that creating art can help others in a way that enhances well being. It also accomplishes some of the goals of 4-H, she says.

“It’s thinking about how we can get kids to be aware of supporting people in those situations, and a lot of kids have had those situations in their own families,” she says. “This is a good way to reach people they wouldn’t ordinarily reach.”