Renee Andrea Mills of Nursing Administration has a passion for helping people and a passion for art, and for the past 25 years, she has combined both in community outreach, sharing the joy of creativity.
Her first art “outreach” came when she was asked to hold an art class for her daughter’s Daisy Scout troop. “I asked them to create their own rendition of the African Fertility Doll that was displayed in the front of the room,” she said. “Everyone did such a good job and I assured them that everyone’s work was a masterpiece!” When her daughter later became part of the after school program at Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club, she held the Young Artists Entrepreneurship art classes, helping children learn “how to create, exhibit, and market their artworks.”
She turned her sights to helping the homeless when she was part of a leadership training program at CHOP. “I met the director of the Homeless Health Initiative outreach program and offered to hold art classes for children and teens in shelters,” Mills said. “I felt a need to bring art into the community. Almost no Philadelphia public schools offer these classes anymore.”
She created an “Artist-In-Residence” program, and for the past nine years, has been reaching out to children and teens in several shelters throughout the city. “I want to help them capture and maintain tranquility while creating their works of art, regardless of their housing situation.” In 2016, she partnered with the Philadelphia Public & Human Services Guild, Inc. to expand her outreach.
Today she volunteers her time and talents for Forget Me Knot Youth Services, which offers supportive services for teens affected by homelessness, poverty and trauma, and for the Youth Emergency Services, which provides housing to youth facing housing insecurity or can no longer safely live at home. “We meet one Saturday a month for two hours. It’s mostly females because males apparently think that art class is just for girls!” she said, laughing. She is “elated” to receive a Penn Medicine CAREs grant, which will help buy the art supplies she needs to continue her artistic outreach.
Meanwhile, she continues to seek out other shelters across Philadelphia to give teens an opportunity to discover their talents and find peace of mind in an otherwise stressful situation. “Visual art therapy helps heal souls and spirits.”
To learn more about the Penn Medicine CAREs grant program, go to PennMedicine.org/community.