Program helps students picture future

Van Go employs students in arts


Jaycee Mountain

Painting a wooden rocking horse, junior Dakota Collins finishes her project at an after-school session at the Van Go studio at 715 New Jersey St.

By Kate Rettig

While their classmates flip burgers and bag groceries at their first jobs, student who work at Van Go are free to spend their work hours creating art.

Van Go Inc. is an art-centered agency for high school students. The program, which was founded by Lynne Green in 1997, provides high school students with after-school job training in visual arts.

“It gives you skills to be successful in the world and once you have these skills, it gives you a foundation that you build upon for life,” freshman Maya Frasier said. “When you go to a different job, you already have these skills that you’re looking for. It just makes you more successful with your work and what you are dreaming for.”

Van Go has served hundreds of teens in the community. According to the mission statement, the program aims to “improve the lives of high need youth using art as the vehicle for self expression, self confidence and hope for the future.”

Van Go employees work on a variety of art projects, including park benches that can be found around town, as well on other installations, such as the tunnel under 6th Street leading to Pinckney Elementary.

“We do paintings with acrylic paint, and we do mosaic projects,” Van Go social worker Amy Bertrand said. “Right now we are doing a project of dyeing fabrics. We’ve also done woodworking and working with fused glass.”

The program provides students academic support, mental health services and life skills for the real world.

“I was informed by my social worker that I should check out this art program since I’ve been showing her my drawings for quite sometime,” senior Jordan Wittbrod said. “She thought it would be a pretty good mix, so she gave me the application and I filled it out. I went there during the summer and it went off from there.”

Wittbrod has been working at Van Go for more than a year. He said that Van Go helped him overcome depression and improve communication skills.

“It has really helped me come out of my shell and boost my confidence and just find myself,” he said.

One of the aims of the program is to give employees a place to release daily stresses and pains. Each day, they are given instructions and then are free to create.

“My anxiety around people has gone down a lot,” Frasier said. “I am more relaxed at school because once I go there, I get things off mind. Then the next day is a lot better than the day before. It’s made me a better person, and it’s made me a whole lot happier.”
Frasier is one of the employee assistant leaders. Assistant leaders are chosen because of their behavior in the previous session. They provide direction and supervision to teammates.

“They help lead everyone around and help those new people that don’t know what to do,” Frasier said. “They expect you to set a role model for the people who come in. They have high expectations for you, and you have to go to meetings and discuss your progress on the previous week.”

Van Go also promotes self care for employees. Within the past five years, a program called Go Healthy was launched. Once a week, instructors teach employees lessons aimed at benefitting their health. The lessons can include sleep management, healthy relationships and physical maintnence.

In the summer, Go Healthy was an everyday activity. During the work day, the employees were required to participate in a 30-minute exercise time including yoga, meditation and Zumba.

“It was really fun,” senior James Harader-Ellett said. “We did yoga, Tai Chi, just a little bit of everything. My favorite activity was probably Zumba because I like to break dance.”

Along with physical health, the program promotes skills that are necessary for entering the workforce, including work attendance, punctuality and problem solving.

“A main emphasis is on job skills, so we are trying to let everyone be prepared for their next job life,” Bertrand said. “We also really support education, so we have a good connection with the schools. We encourage people after high school to explore college or trade school or whatever employment is the best fit for them. We’re just trying to help them with the decision that comes next.”