The award-winning "Space of Her Own" (SOHO Old Town) outreach program engages at-risk, low-income, 5th-grade girls in a year of personal growth centered on art. This special collaboration with the City of Alexandria's Court Service Unit pairs each girl with an adult, female mentor to participate in art lessons led by Art League artist instructors. Each week, girls and mentors work together to create expressive artwork. These sessions become the catalyst to discuss larger life concerns, decision-making, and emotional issues. At the completion of the program, the teams remodel each of the girls' bedrooms, incorporating all of their artwork, to truly give each girl a "space of her own."
How SOHO Old Town Began
As a result of a citywide survey of Alexandria’s teens and parents and community focus group studies, it was concluded that at-risk girls would be most successful in avoiding juvenile criminal activity and improving social skills and self-esteem through engagement in long-term mentoring involving art activities. A partnership between The Art League and the Alexandria Court Service Unit developed, and SOHO Old Town was conceived!
Approaching its tenth year, SOHO Old Town runs for a full year, starting each fall and running formally through June, followed by community service activities across the summer. SOHO Old Town serves 12 to 16 girls each year, selecting girls who are at-risk for delinquent behavior, come from low-income households, and are creatively inclined.
How SOHO Old Town Works
Girls are each matched with an adult, female volunteer mentor from the community. Together they meet weekly to participate in team building activities, learn life skills lessons, eat a healthy dinner, and participate in an art lesson taught by a professional Art League artist. SOHO Old Town uses evidence-based life skills curricula to teach girls about nutrition, refusal skills, self-esteem, communication, relationship building, friendship, health, decision-making, and more. In art lessons, girls and mentors work together to create expressive artwork for the girls’ bedrooms, which may include pillows, personalized lamps, wall hangings, memo boards, marbleized memory books, and silk clothes.
The program was inspired by popular HGTV and TLC programming, and upon completion of the year, girls and mentors work together in teams to remodel the girls’ bedrooms, being sure to include ample lighting and study space. All of the girls’ artworks are incorporated into the rooms, giving each girl a true “space of her own.” Check out our YouTube page to see the wonderful room renovations from the past few years.
In May 2009, SOHO Old Town was featured in the Washington Post. Click here to read the article! To see the video of the 2009-2010 program, including room renovation before & after photos, click here.
Volunteering with SOHO
Volunteer mentors must make a one-year commitment to SOHO Old Town. They attend SOHO Old Town sessions every Tuesday evening from 5:00 to 8:00 pm at The Art League in Old Town, Alexandria. Sessions run from late September through June. Across July and August, girls and mentors participate in community service activities on their own time.
If you are interested in volunteering as a mentor for SOHO Old Town, contact Charlene Haskell at 703-549-5450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOHO Old Town is offered completely free to its participants, and all mentors serve on a volunteer basis. The program depends entirely on the generosity of the individuals, foundations, and companies that provide financial support to fund art lessons and projects, and the mentors and other volunteers who generously give their time, energy, and skills to the program. We give our thanks the following corporate and foundation sponsors and in-kind donors for supporting the SOHO Old Town program over the past two years:
Alexandria Youth Fund
Alexandria Community Trust (ACT)
The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia
Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Kiwanis of Alexandria
Mason Hirst Foundation
The Meltzer Group
Potomac Valley Watercolorists
Washington Forrest Foundation
All Art League programs are supported by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Alexandria Commission for the Arts, United Way (#8069)/CFC (#56520).
If you are interested in supporting the SOHO Old Town program, please contact Charlene Haskell at email@example.com or 703-519-1741 or Linda Odell at firstname.lastname@example.org.