A Brief History

In 1988, RAW designed the first statewide art therapy program for incarcerated youth. At the time, RAW’s founder Mary Flannery was living in Lynn and was painfully aware of how many teens from her community were incarcerated. Often teens would admit to committing crimes to get back into lock-up because that was the only place where they felt a sense of belonging. She believed RAW could be a life-changing option for Lynn youth; an alternative to lock-up. In 1994, Mary opened RAW Space in Lynn, with Kit Jenkins, Executive Director, and a group of passionate art therapists. All shared the belief that good things happen when kids feel they are a vital part of a creative community that truly cares.       

Despite current efforts to revitalize our community, our young people’s futures remain uncertain. Youth in Lynn experience poverty and crime rates that are among the highest in the Massachusetts. A recent study conducted by RAW indicates that this exposure has resulted in a significant portion (84%) of our teens experiencing at least one category of childhood trauma.

RAW youth confide in our staff about the feelings of hopelessness that come from having very few places to turn. The home lives of many of our youth are unpredictable. Often, the adults in their lives cannot offer dependable care because they work multiple jobs, have a complicated immigration status, are incarcerated, are affected by crime, or are battling mental illness.

Because many lack the resources to uphold a stable living situation, youth tend move frequently, creating rifts in their social lives. We have found that many of the adults in our young people’s lives become so stressed that they are prevented from maintaining stable employment and stable family relationships. Youth in our area who seek counseling from an adult outside of their homes, find limited help.

Early experiences with prolonged stress, and related trauma, can undermine children’s ability to learn, form relationships, and function well in a classroom. Each of these affects their chances for long-term success.

Over the past thirty years, youth have described that they are missing what we believe is an essential part of a stable life—meaningful relationships in which they feel nurtured and valued. At school or in their community they are lonely, but at RAW they are welcomed into an inclusive environment the moment they step through our doors. The relationships that they create at RAW sustain and strengthen their ability to navigate a challenging and often unfair world.

 RAW van, painted in 1994 by the first group of RAW kids.

RAW van, painted in 1994 by the first group of RAW kids.