Featured Volunteers


Back in high school, I was very involved with a local family shelter & in my senior year I developed an art class for parents & children living there. I was eager to continue the work when I came to college & Art Start gave me an opportunity to serve a community that I am passionate about.

Ayanna was raised in St. Mary, Jamaica and Snellville, Georgia before moving to New York City in 2010 to attend The New School for Anthropology and Contemporary Music. She currently works at the NYC Department of Education, and is planning to earn her Masters in Ethnomusicology. In 2012, she began volunteering with Art Start on the Hip-Hop teen night at LIFE. Since then, she has volunteered during music and art nights at both LIFE and now, the Bushwick Family Shelter. She has a passion for music, social justice, and creating accessible spaces for learning together. www.ayannaheaven.com

Favorite song to dance to (when nobody’s watching)!?

This one is really tough but I’ll give two: “(Not Just) Knee Deep” by the Funkadelics and recently, “Work” by Rihanna.

What do you do as a volunteer?

I currently volunteer on Thursday nights on the theater and music night with Nella. We have done so many fun projects with the kids, and I love getting creative with them every week. I am currently working with a small group to choreograph a dance to perform in a few weeks. It’s so much fun seeing all that they come up with when we are together on Thursdays.

What inspired you to get involved with bringing arts to underserved NYC youth?

I have always had a passion for the arts and education, so this was a perfect fit for me when I began volunteering in 2012. Back in high school, I was very involved with a local family shelter, and in my senior year I developed an art class for parents and children living there. I was eager to continue the work when I came to college, and Art Start gave me an opportunity to serve a community that I am passionate about.

Can you share a special moment you experienced during one of our workshops?

Every month we have a family night where we encourage family members to join us at workshop. A few months ago, we had just finished learning choreography to “Love On Top” and we decided to give families the opportunity to join in and perform the dance with our youth. Most of those in attendance were pretty shy, but we had one father who came and totally got down! He learned the choreography and nailed it during our performance. It is always fun to have parents in attendance, as they sometimes get to see a different side of their children in workshop. In this case, we got to see a different side of this parent, which was so funny and sweet to witness.

How has your time as a volunteer impacted you?

My time as a volunteer has been so formative, and my friends and family all know how important Art Start is to me. I have grown close to so many of the kids who attend the sessions, and it is always extremely bittersweet when they move out of the shelter. I have really learned to appreciate the time you have together with people, as it truly is fleeting. Every week that we have with the youth is important to cherish and to value. I wish them all the best as they move with their families, and I hope that our paths will cross again in the future.


Share a dream with us.

I dream of a society that allows all people to live their authentic lives free of hate and injustice. I dream of a people who understand their collective power, with the courage to speak their truth. Last, I dream of a world where we elevate the voice of our youth, and respect that they know best what they need to succeed.


Art is very much like a medicine to happiness, and for some people, it’s life changing, which is what I’ve learned through working with the kids at Art Start.

Xixi raised $200 through selling handmade bookmarksShe is 15-years old an aspiring artist who was born in Canada and moved to NYC in 2014. She has been drawing seriously for 3-years, playing piano for 10, and flute for 6. Xixi is also a volunteer at Art Start. instagram.com/_artistx

Share one of your proudest moments. 


What drew you to Art Start? 

Xixi, you felt super passionate and became a fundraiser for Art Start... How did you inspire others to support your campaign?

Has your time at Art Start influenced you or your art in any way? How?

What do you LOVE to do in your spare time?

Can you share your favorite drawing with us?



When I moved back to NYC after living upstate, I knew I wanted to help somehow. With my love of working with art & kids, Art Start seemed like the perfect fit. It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Meet Lucy, an inspiring woman extremely passionate about bringing the creative arts to NYC youth.  She fundraised for Art Start's 24th birthday campaign and has been a committed visual art & performing arts volunteer at Art Start for 2-years.  

What inspired you to get involved with bringing arts to underserved NYC youth?

I grew up on the Lower East Side in NYC in the 80’s, so at a young age I was fully aware of poverty and struggle.  When I moved back to NYC after living upstate for many years, I knew I wanted to help somehow.  With my love of working with art and kids, Art Start seemed like the perfect fit.  It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Why do you think others should get involved in this cause?

It’s a most rewarding experience all around.  You meet great people with big hearts who are there for the same reason you are and on top of it all- you meet some really awesome kids!  You don’t have to be an artist to be a part of Art Start, you just need to want to be a positive person during a rough time in a young kid’s life.


What are some creative ways you used to get people to donate to your Campaign?

Social media helped a lot!  And of course my family and friends; I am still so thankful for their donations and helping me spread the word!


What is your most memorable moment as a volunteer?

Our last day at the Catherine Street shelter was pretty rough. There were a lot of hugs and teary eyes. We were excited for the kids to be going to a place better suited for them but sad to see them go at the same time. Although love and appreciation had always been expressed by the kids and their parents, that day I think it clicked for us just how important it was to them for Art Start to be a part of their lives.

How has your time as a volunteer influenced you?

I think volunteering has impacted my creativity. At the program, we have a lot of random donations of material. Watching the kids work with them-- I’ve seen some pretty cool and inspiring ideas come of it

What else are you passionate about?

I really love painting. I’m currently in school for Early Childhood Education, but I try to squeeze in a painting class every semester.  My great grandfather was a painter, and taught art at Cooper Union and the Art Students League.  My grandfather studied with Fernand Léger and Josef Albers, so art is strongly embedded in my roots.




Art Start is honored and excited to be included in Priority Stories, an initiative by bicycle company, Priority Bikes. Each video vignette provides a look into the lives of people making a difference, and their personal motivations behind why they devote their time and energy. Priority Stories reached out to Art Start earlier this year through Art Start board member, Natalie Brasington, to see if they could feature the Priority Story of one of our incredible volunteer artists.

Art Start’s workshop volunteers dedicate themselves to Art Start’s mission year after year. They positively and creatively connect with our participants, helping to transform a time of uncertainty into a time for personal growth and development.
— Hannah Immerman/ Art Start Co-Executive Director

Elena lives in Brooklyn, works a full time job in events at a tech company in Manhattan, and has been volunteering at Art Start since 2007.  One thing she said stood out, “I was never fair weather about anything,” and it shows the type of resolve and dedication that Elena and these volunteers have for these kids.

The piece is directed by Dan Maloney, leading commercial editor at Cut+Run NYC.  In his directoral debut, he spent time with Elena at her home, work, and at Art Start’s headquarter office, working on a silk screening project with some of Art Start’s youth.

The Priority Stories program was developed in collaboration with Dan Maloney of Cut+Run New York, Director Henry Lu, and photographer Chris Ozer, highlighting those who make it a priority to give back to their community.  

Elena was the ideal subject for this project. She was able to just be herself, and share an intimate view into the challenges that these young people face as well as her reasons for volunteering. Getting a glimpse of her passion, energy, and dedication to Art Start was inspiring.
— Dan Maloney / Cut + Run NYC


What do you do at Art Start?

I’m a Visual Arts Teaching Artist for weekly workshops held at a Brooklyn family shelter.         

How long have you been with Art Start?

I signed on as a volunteer during the Spring of 2012, right after completing an internship with Art Start that Winter.


Can you share a special moment at Art Start?

Every time that I’ve personally managed to break through a kid’s walls of exclusion and distrust in the midst of bonding over both the art and casual rapport we’ve created together, that’s a precious moment. Having them voluntarily lower their guard and grow accustomed to– even become a fan of– your presence, surprisingly in the span of one or two sessions, reaffirms that. I’ve been privileged to experience several of these moments, which all make it easier and more necessary to return back the next week, the next month, the next year…


What do you love to do?

It’s taken a while for me to realize it, but I love working with the youth, in any and every capacity. From education to tutoring to mentoring to simple recreational activities, it always serves to be a gratifying experience from both sides of the table.

I currently work as an Assistant Teacher at a private institution for children diagnosed with ASD. The position doesn’t truly allow me a considerable amount of freedom to encompass art into the workings of the lesson material beyond a superficial incorporation. So, having the opportunity to focus freely and centrally on art without expectations or constraints with young, open minds has been so refreshing.


Has your time at Art Start influenced you in any way? 

My time at Art Start thus far has been a facilitator of so many things. These weekly sessions have helped to certify the notion that my passion does reside well with working with the youth. The work accomplished with the children of Art Start has influenced my former outlook on art, with respect to the manner in which it ought to be created and employed in order to express one’s emotions, thoughts, and personality. It’s also helped me to conjure the dormant artist bound within me as we collectively work to foster the budding artist bound within every single child that comes.


Meet Cathy, a dedicated visual arts volunteer, graphic designer, wrapping paper designer and member of Art Start’s Young Professionals Committee. She inspires us daily and we think that she will inspire you too.

What do you do at Art Start?

I’m on the Young Professionals Committee of the Executive Board and former art workshop volunteer.

How long have you been a volunteer?

I volunteered on a weekly basis for 2 years and recently took a break to focus more time and energy on my board member duties.

Can you talk about a special moment at Art Start?

Every time I saw a smile on a youth’s face, especially in excitement for Art Start, was a special moment for me. It feels good to know you’re a part of something that brings joy to others. It’s proof that we are making a positive impact on these youth’s lives somehow. And that’s all I’m really looking to do. Create positive space; make a lasting impression.

Perhaps my most special memories were working with one youth who had a speech deficiency. It was difficult to understand what he was saying, so it challenged me to look for cues in his tone and gestures to understand him. It was a reminder of how we all connect as humans, despite our age, language, circumstances, etc., on such a basic level. He was no less eager or able than anyone else to create and express. And it was always a pleasure to create with him.

What do you love to do?

More than anything, I love to help people. I love to affect change and bring positivity and openness and togetherness into the world. And I think a great way to do this is through art. I own a wrapping paper company and I find inspiration for my designs every day–from elaborate art installations in this great city, to the tile patterns I walk across every day to work. From a child’s drawing to a puddle of spilled milk, inspiration is everywhere. By infusing these things into my wrapping paper, I’m able to bring what inspires me into an accessible product that happens to be associated with joy and celebration. How great is that?

Has your time at Art Start influenced you or your art in any way?

Absolutely. I took over the Art Start Instagram feed on nights I volunteered, so I was constantly taking pictures of the youth’s art and their process. Doing that made me look that much closer at what they were creating. I’m always fascinated by what they come up with, the depth of their creative minds, and how skilled they are. This makes me think twice about the art I make and the patterns I create. It pushes me to step back into my youthful creative mind–when I feel it was at its freest. And it’s just so inspiring to watch these little humans create beautiful art.


This process is about being in the moment and children provide that connection.
— David, Art Start Volunteer


What do you do at Art Start?

I volunteer in the art workshops. Every week we work on a specific project to give the youth an opportunity to experience different mediums, whether that’s oil pastels, paints or creating cities of their dreams with several kinds of materials.


How long have you been a volunteer?

I’ve been an Art Start volunteer for over two years now.

Can you talk about a special moment at Art Start?

A most recent special moment was seeing the students’ art work at the HOME project gallery show. For the students to see their own work as part of a bigger community is incredibly powerful and monumental. It’s important for them to understand that their creative contributions can reach beyond the walls of workshop. They get to see they have a voice in the world. It really makes a lasting difference in how they view themselves.

What do you LOVE to do?

One of my loves is photography. I’ve been taking photographs for quite some time now and I enjoy wandering around NYC, or when I travel to other places, and capture this place in time, these moments and people in these moments. I have a blog that I update pretty much on a daily basis. I’ve started to expand my palette in creating and collaborating with musicians to create great portraits.

I love exercising and my Tai Chi practice has been at the center of my health. It’s a daily practice that helps me spiritually and provides a boost of energy and focus. I’ve been practicing for over two years now and I’m incredibly grateful for the community of people I’ve been able to connect with.

And lastly cooking is becoming (very slowly) something that I enjoy doing. I never, ever, ever thought I would say that. Ever. I’m learning a bit, still premature, but the fulfillment of providing myself with nourishment easily equates to love. And I love love.

Has your time at Art Start influenced you or your art in any way? How?

Art Start provided the opportunity to work with youth and like minded artists. I learned to be generous and care for the details in my creative process. The process is about being in the moment and children provide that connection. They are all about being creative and playing. They never forget to play. That’s why Art Start is an important organization. It provides youth the opportunity to speak their voices and serves as a reminder to adults to never forget to play. It’s impacted the way I care for my passion and life with passion is much more fun.

Check out David’s photos here


I’ve never danced more wildly or sung sillier songs then I have in Art Start workshops, and my confidence is the better for it.
— Katrin, Art Start Volunteer

What do you do at Art Start?

I assist our SUPER talented teaching artists in their lessons. I help the kids create music and learn new styles of dance — and I bring a lot of enthusiasm!

How long have you been a volunteer?

Since January 2011

Can you talk about a special moment at Art Start?

It’s hard to pin down just one… It’s incredible to see what kids can create with just a little time, space and resources. I’ve seen shy kids come out of their shells through learning piano chords, uncoordinated dancers beam proudly when they master a step, have even been dubbed a “best friend” by a few of the students. But I think my favorite moment was our last dance workshop showcase — the room was packed and every parent, cousin and sibling was on their feet, clapping and cheering on the dancers. That makes ME beam proudly!

What do you LOVE to do?

Ever since I witnessed Puss in Boots dramatized by a costumed cast of characters at my kindergarten assembly, I’ve been addicted to acting and singing. I’ve added writing into the mix, and have been doing both part time for years. It’s a great privilege to share what excites me with another generation just discovering it all.

Has your time at Art Start influenced you or your art in any way? How?

I have been a performer my whole life, but have been focused on my corporate job for years. Art Start has given me a weekly outlet to explore my creativity by forcing me to abandon any doubt in myself so I can focus on the kids. I’ve never danced more wildly or sung sillier songs, and my confidence is the better for it. Working with Art Start has helped refuel my creative passions, and I’m now quitting my day job to focus strictly on writing and performing!