Fort Riley, Kansas



Family art-stravaganza allows families to bond over arts, crafts

By Suet Lee-Growney | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | November 24, 2017

     Army Community Service and Riley’s Conference Center employees shuffled in and out of one of the rooms at the center during the Family Art Extravaganza while carting stacks of chairs and tables for all who attended the event Nov. 19. The room was packed. Additional seating had to be added throughout the event as more and more families showed up. Some families who weren’t too concerned about sitting at a table decided to plant themselves on the floor by the windows.

     Sonia Brown, ACS outreach coordinator, said they were expecting a lot of people to participate in the arts and crafts event, but didn’t foresee the numbers almost doubling. There were about 100 people who preregistered to attend, and within the first hour of the occasion, about 180 people showed up — and more kept coming in.

     "We had a 104 pre-signup and we have 184 adults and kids show up,” Brown said. “I think it’s wonderful. Last year, we had a smaller space and then more people showed up, so this year, we moved it to a bigger space, but for next year we will have to move it to an even bigger space.”

      Brown said the event is part of the Hearts Apart program for waiting families and is a rea­son for families to get out of the house.

     “We try to sponsor programs and activities to reduce isolation, encourage family members to socialize and just feel cohesion with the family members who have service members who are deployed,” she said. “The thing about deployments is if you stay in the house, it’ll feel like the walls just close in on you and makes the deployment seem so much longer.”

     Apart from breaking up the amount of time families spend at home waiting for their loved one to return, another benefit of the event is it brings families out into the community, said Brown.

     “You’d be surprised to see people who come in here who are strangers who are sitting next to each other and start talking,” she said. “Next thing you know is they exchange phone numbers and they will either end up having a new battle buddy or, if their Soldier isn’t deployed, they would make a new friend.”

     The reason Brown chose arts and crafts as a bonding medium for families to come together is because it’s an ac­tivity that can be enjoyed throughout the ages.

      “We have family members from 1 year old up to 20 years old here,” she said.

     The arts and crafts ac­tivities varied in medium and difficulty. There were several painting with instruction op­tions, painting little wooden sculptures, such as huts and snakes, coloring a stuffed bear and more.

      Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Dewell, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regi­ment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, attended with his wife, Jennifer, and three kids Anna, 9; Klara, 7 and Mi­chael, 5. The kids managed to squeeze in more than one activity at the art affair. It was Jennifer who heard about the event by email through Uni­fied School District 383 in Manhattan, Kansas.

       “The liaison for military, she sends out emails when things are going on,” Jennifer said.

      Anna and Klara were eager to share the list of activities she and her siblings got to do that afternoon.

      “We made colored bears, we painted pictures, I made a tree,” Anna said and added her favorite of the two was coloring the bear.

      Jennifer and Jeremy then encouraged Klara to talk about what she painted at the event. Klara said she just made a Christmas design.

     “She went off the mainstream and did not do a Charlie Brown tree or do the Christmas bulb — that’s Klara,” Jeremy said as he looked at Klara who was grinning back at her father. “It’s a good thing.”

      Jennifer thought the event was a good way for kids to get out of the house and mingle with other members of the community.

      “It’s good,” she said. “The kids get to get out and this is really good for the community.”