TRENTON CREATES: Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Art Workshops is a free after-school program focused on Social, Emotional & Creative Learning for children ages 6-11.

Megan Kelly, the director at Lifetime practices, currently works as a psychotherapist assisting with children using art as a way of expression. Currently, she is leading the SEL program.

“So it’s a social-emotional learning curriculum that works through art and art activities…it begins with everybody checking in with their name. How are they feeling for the day? There are expectations in this space,” Kelly said.

The program started by letting kids create any animal, big or small. Kids were able to make everything from elephants to a unicorn to express their feelings.

“The skills involved, and a lot of times, come through the arts, right? We started this week with animals…So you make animals that could be real or imagined…You sit in a circle. It gives a sense of belonging,” Kelly said.

The program is taking place at First Presbyterian Church of Trenton on 120 E State Street. Molly Dykstra, Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, explained that the church wanted to see their area used for the community.

“We want to see these spaces put into good use, for the good of the community… We would really love to see people feel like this is a space where they want to be, where they feel validated and…where they are encouraged in their growth,” Pastor Dykstra said.

The program is funded through Isles. Gulu Brewer, Isles Community and Resident Engagement Coordinator, explained that it came around after he and other community leaders brainstormed ideas during a meeting one night.

“We all got in the room and we’re like, what should we do?…I was like, huh, we’ve been talking about community stuff… let’s put this puzzle together somehow. So that’s kind of how things started. We had three or four meetings, you know, to kind of do some planning behind the scenes, and then here we are,” Grewer said.

They all agree that arts is essential for kids of all ages. Anthony Catanese, manager of Studio 51, said that helping kids create different art allows them to express themselves.

“I think it’s great because one needs to express themselves. And I think like a lot of them, they get to see a different side of themselves that they don’t normally see—kind of like thinking outside the box and being creative,” Catanese said.

Participants of the SEL and Art Workshops will explore and develop vital skills in creative art while learning skills for self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship building, and responsible decision-making. The program has run for the last two weeks and will continue to run on May 31, June 2, June 7, and June 14, at the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton.

Kelly explained kids can use art to respond to the trauma.

“When it comes to making art, it’s a bottom up process, right? The way the brain works, there’s a front, and it tells stories in ABCD order, but when we’re in a crisis situation, we basically go to the more lower brain, it’s instinctual part.” Kelly said. “And so, with art, you’re able to kind of engage that lower piece of the brain…organize and express things that are not in words.”