Helping kids explore their creative side is what Bethany Cornell strives for every day. As the county’s arts supervisor for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County, she spends her days in the art room at the Nappanee Clubhouse.
“I love when they can feel a sense of accomplishment with their art, especially when it’s a progressive thing. I try to encourage them even if it’s not a masterpiece. I find something positive to help them recognize skill and talent,” she said.
On the county level, she helps coordinate art nights and bigger projects that include all four clubhouses that fit into the framework of the National Fine Arts program.
“I check in with the other Clubs to make sure their kids are doing the projects that relate to the requirements. For their day to day, they’re in control of what happens,” Cornell said.
She’s working to make sure members from all the clubs get together on a regular basis.
“The main thing is connection. I think our art kids tend to be the quirky kids so getting the connection with other Clubs, they can see there are kids that like to do similar things. They seem to really enjoy getting to know the other kids,” she said.
Cornell went to Grace College and majored in art with a minor in behavioral science.
“I intended to become a behavioral art therapist, but I found I wasn’t able to incorporate the art into the process at the job I was working,” she said.
While searching for something that would fulfill that aspect of her training, she came across a job posting for the Club in Nappanee and she’s been there for the past 18 months.
“It was exactly what my college experience set me up to do. I get to do the art and work on the behavioral science side. It’s very cool to be able to connect the two,” Cornell said.
She wants her art room to be appealing to members the minute they walk through the doors.
“There are colors everywhere, so the kids are excited to be here. I also try to create new projects that they haven’t done before. The challenge is to “trick” them into learning something, too,” she said. “They’ve just come from school where they’ve been learning all day. So, I try to weave a lesson into the projects while they’re having a little fun.”
She said one challenge is learning how individual members like to create art. Cornell encourages them not to think that her way is the only way to do it, but rather to explore and be their own artist.
“If they’re feeling down on themselves when doing a project, we will stop and as a group find something positive in the project, so they know they’ve been noticed and feel valuable,” she said.
One of her members in Nappanee was recently recognized in a national competition at the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“Having Sam win at the national level was amazing. When they love art and achieve something incredible, I’m glad to be that person who can encourage them in that area. I’ve definitely seen growth in all our kids,” she said.
Cornell said she loves the changing nature of her job and that’s part of what motivates her.
“Club is unexpected every day. We have our routines, but there’s always something new to learn. Each kid expresses themselves so differently that you get a melting pot that’s a little different. Each kid has the ability to work through their struggles and we get to help them work through that.”