Reflections: The Art Program That Changes Lives

Sarah Henris is a Mom & PTA Reflections Specialist, NYS PTA

Henris One Voice Blog

I remember one afternoon when my son came home from school in his usual way. I greeted him with a hug and a kiss as he stood in the doorway; he had little to say. “Nothing!” and “Nobody!” were his usual answers. That afternoon was no different.

Picture if you can, nearly five years of afternoons, welcoming home your child from school only to hear that he did “nothing” and played with “nobody” all day long. (Tears at your heartstrings, doesn’t it?)

As usual, we sat on the couch together looking through his backpack for hidden treasures. (You see, playing our treasure game is how I learned a little more about his actual day and friendships.) Low and behold, there it was! That afternoon we discovered treasure. It came in the shape of a flyer announcing the start of an art program, new to our school. It was the REFLECTIONS Program!

Snuggling closer, gazing into his hazel eyes, I began what would become our life-changing conversation with a question. “What kind of person do you picture when I say, A Different Kind of Hero?”

As if performing a monologue, he dramatically portrayed heroes as police officers, firefighters, and soldiers. Then, with a sense of serenity and lovingness, he described his Dad as A Different Kind of Hero. Simply stating, “Before he goes off to work to save people, he helps me with my homework.” That afternoon, we talked and talked and talked. There was no turning back. That Reflections flyer and a question opened the door, setting him free.

More than forty years ago, National PTA began the Reflections program so children and youth could create original works of art, based upon a theme, for fun and recognition. That afternoon, my son definitely had fun being creative when portraying different kinds of heroes. Ultimately, he even earned recognition for his participation and work of art.

As a matter of fact, nine years later, he still considers entering Reflections a major life- changing moment. (I’m guessing you think it’s because he won. Well, how his work of art fared in the program didn’t make a difference to him at all or so he says.) He attributes that moment to learning about his courage, stepping out of his comfort zone and tackling his fears head-on to become the young man he is today. (I am so proud of him.)

As for me, my life changed, too. I attribute that moment to igniting my passion, giving me the motivation to manage our state’s Reflections program, as the New York State PTA Reflections Specialist. Nine years later, I have the privilege of encouraging the families of more than 20,000 children and youth in New York to begin their life-changing conversations.

Picture if you can, sitting with your child holding your PTA’s Reflections flyer and beginning a conversation with this question, “What is the first image that pops into your mind when I say Believe, Dream, Inspire?” (The possibilities tear at your heartstrings, don’t they?) You never know, you just might be looking back on this moment years later, as the moment that Reflections changed your entire life.

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