By Lajeune Hollis
Let’s face it, there is a kid in each and every one of us. The Art Child, a travel- based and online program for kids of all ages, recognizes that. Its mission, according to founder Ms. Alicia Brown, a certified therapeutic art life coach, is “to offer programs to let kids be kids, show their emotions along with helping them control them.”
I wondered, how did this business start? According to Ms. Alicia, her business began as showcase of her art, and she was selling cards, canvases and more.
“I switched when I realized most of my work was targeted to kids and people who enjoyed abstract art,” she shared. At the time, she was in school studying child psychology with art therapy as her career. She got her certification in Therapeutic Art Life Coaching, which combined her love of working with children and her passion for art.
And so, The Art Child was born.
In partnership with Sawyer, an online provider of children’s classes and activities with a mission “to inspire a love of learning through play and exploration,” The Art Child offers programs for children ages two and up, teens and adults. Ms. Alicia tailors each class to the individual person, or collectively for groups. Class fees are per person or by group, and can be made via Cashapp, Venmo, PayPal, Square or Apple Pay.
“It's important to me because there are so many children without creative outlets, and art programs seem to be the first things cut,” she shared. “We are trying to stop that, and showcase that art is extremely important for anyone. If we want well-rounded adults, we need to start with the kids. We need to find ways to give them a sense of self, and expression.”
Residents of Connecticut can hire Ms. Alicia to come directly to their church, home, school or daycare to hold a therapeutic art class. All art supplies and snacks are provided at no extra cost. And, social distancing rules are in place during the pandemic to ensure all attending are safe.
One challenge she has faced is getting The Art Child name out there. “I have a select few promoters and have been working with local businesses to hold art events, but due to COVID-19, the turnouts are always small,” she shared. “Hopefully, going forward, we can change that.”
"If we want well-rounded adults, we need to start with the kids. We need to find ways to give them a sense of self, and expression.”
Because of the pandemic, The Art Child is now also offering online children’s classes for free on Friday and Sunday evenings at 7:00pm. Children from anywhere across the United States can participate from the comfort of their homes.
Once participants sign up for a free class by The Art Child, they will have the option of having art supplies mailed to them, including paint brushes, canvases, construction paper, glitter and more, paying only for shipping. On the day of the one-hour online class, attendees are emailed Zoom login information, and on class night, Ms. Alicia first reads an illustrated story before teaching the actual activity. Children actively participate by following her step- by-step instructions and holding up their artwork as the night progresses. They give a final thumbs up once they finish their “masterpieces.”
In addition to classes, The Art Child also offers face painting at birthday parties, art activity boxes, art commissions, events (see availability on theartchildllc.org), pre-drawn canvases for DIY as well as pre-painted canvases. Ms. Alicia is also certified to work with kids on the spectrum, who are living with Autism, Asperger’s or with social disorders.
As for adults, Ms. Alicia helps them “turn off” their brains during their therapeutic art classes by focusing on the process as opposed to the outcome.
As with anything worthwhile there is a cost. However, The Art Child holds fundraisers on a regular basis to defray business costs, especially for their free programs. Donations are accepted at any time at www.theartchildllc.org.
What’s next for The Art Child?
“I want to reach all 50 states with art boxes, and I’ll be having an event with The Key Bookstore in Hartford, Connecticut on February 19 at 6:00pm,” she shared. “It's a story time and painting event for adults and children. I am also working on a coloring book for all ages.”
Ms. Alicia is getting a jump start on her goal of reaching all 50 states by offering a special Valentine’s Day activity box. She hopes to “spread the love” by offering this special activity for couples that include two canvases and brush sets, two heart notebooks, two pencils, two slimes, two bottles of bubbles, six paints, glitter and a rose quartz from Hippie Love. She explains that the rose quartz, when held, will helps people to relax their minds and will then activate the love inside of them, allowing their hearts to tell them what to paint. Visit www.theartchildllc.org to order one of these special boxes.
Sounds like a good plan.
The Art Child is in Bloomfield, Connecticut, with in-person services available throughout Connecticut and online services available nationwide. Find The Art Child on Facebook, Instagram or learn more at theartchildllc.org.
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By Cassandra McKenna
Every product that Susan Vanriel-Smith offers stems from daily life with her children.
“My biggest inspirations were my first two sons,” she shared. “I was first introduced to the world of autism through my oldest—they are both on the spectrum at completely different levels.”
Vanriel-Smith’s second son has helped her realize how different people are and how important it is to accept those differences. Her son, who is non-verbal and only communicates when given cues and with a talking device, motivates her daily.
The products offered by Gifted One Princes are genuinely from the heart. “I live in this world and I have a lot of experience,” she shared. “There are other companies like mine, but I feel like I take it up a notch. I saw a way that I can help others to get through some tough times.”
Vanriel-Smith runs the exclusively online store—that offers apparel, accessories and other products that feature messages related to autism and other disabilities—with a little help from her family and some outside resources. She hopes to eventually expand to vending at pop-up markets.
Gifted One Princes just recently launched in July. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
“There are a lot of people unemployed at the moment and though they may want to support you and make a purchase, they can’t because they are not in a position to do so,” Susan explained.
Because she knows that feeling well but is limited financially because of the pandemic, she tries to find creative ways to support other small businesses, like sharing through social media.
Pre-COVID, Vanriel-Smith and her family participated in many Walks for Autism, including at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. While walking may be on hold for now, she’s continued to support the cause by making donations and spreading awareness. She also donates a percentage of the business’s earning bi-annually to support autism research. Eventually, she’d like to donate to local schools that hold special needs programs.
“I am inspired by everyone who works with special needs," she shared. "I have worked with a lot of people over the years and have a profound respect and love for them. It takes special people with hearts of gold to work with the special needs population. It takes a very different kind of person. It isn’t easy, but they can make it look that way.”
Gifted One Princes is truly a family-operated business. Vanriel-Smith handles the day-to-day operations, her husband assists with technical aspects, her sons model products and her oldest son helps with packaging up orders.
Vanriel-Smith has been able to connect with many different people while wearing her Stolen Hearts t-shirt. “I often get stopped and questioned about it,” she shared. “It feels good to listen or offer some advice to that person about what may work for me that they can try. It opens room for conversation without being judged. It is letting others know they are not alone.”
While she works with various artists and printers to bring her creative ideas to life, Vanriel-Smith comes up with the designs for all of the products and each one represents some part of her life. Her children inspired the logo for Gifted One Princes, with the three crowns representing her three children.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most. It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer.”
One of their most popular items is the Be Kind t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/be-kind). Vanriel-Smith’s oldest son experienced bullying in middle school which inspired the message to show love, be kind and be understanding.
The Loud and Clear t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/loud-and-clear) was inspired by her oldest son who has always struggled with eye contact. “It is one of the hardest things for him to do and he is very insecure about it,” she shared. “It can take away from his self-confidence.”
The message on the Loud and Clear t-shirt says I may not look at you when you speak but I can hear you clearly. Messages like these help to bring awareness to autism and other disabilities, which is something that Susan plans to continue as the business expands.
“I hope to one day be a motivational speaker for the cause,” she shared.
Vanriel-Smith is originally from rural Jamaica, where resources are lacking for people with disabilities. “I would love to be able to bring more awareness to the island, help to open facilities, and offer therapies and schooling to help children and young adults. There is so much I see in the future for us. We have big dreams and goals.”
She hopes that people from all over the world will become familiar with the name Gifted One Princes.
“My hope is to expand. I hope our products reach the homes of many people all over the world. We are currently shipping to Canada, but soon this will be worldwide.”
Gifted One Princes offers quality products made from fabrics and prints that can hold up after many washes, and Vanriel-Smith pays attention to detail, quickly addressing any issues that might arise.
“Quality means a lot to me,” she shared. “I want my customers to feel the love I have for my business. I meet the expectations of the customers. I ensure that they will get what they pay for.”
She also translates this to her packaging, putting personal touches on each one, with the goal of ensuring each customer is happy.
“I think great customer service is exceeding expectations,” she shared. “A great attitude and being knowledgeable about your business and products is also a plus. Customer satisfaction is one of the most important priorities.”
She also puts a priority on resolving issues in a positive manner and working towards gaining customer loyalty.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased some items and was very impressed. My favorite item was their canvas bag. Customer service was excellent and shipping was fast—I placed an order on Sunday and my package arrived by that Tuesday morning!
Gifted One Princes hopes to add more products to their site and are currently working on homemade organic natural skincare and hair products. “We have been working on this for months now, perfecting our formulas and getting everything right before we add the line to the business,” shared Vanriel-Smith.
Despite some setbacks, Vanriel-Smith continues to push forward. Even though they have faced some challenges and hard times, her children continue to give her strength, hope and motivation.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most,” she shared. “It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer. We pray together.”
At a time when the world could use more understanding and kindness, it is wonderful to see a business that finds different ways to encourage others while also spreading awareness about autism and special needs.
Visit Gifted One Princes at https://giftedoneprinces.com/ or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Gifted-One-Princes-LLC-111514053964176) or Instagram (https://giftedoneprinces.com/).
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