Forster artist Donna Rankin wants to transform the lives of children struggling to make sense of a world of drought and bushfires.
Armed with a colourful box filled with textas, pencils and paintbrushes, Ms Rankin is using creativity to ease their anxiety.
"We can't travel all over the countryside, but somehow I wanted to reach out to these young people," she explains. "So, we came up with the idea of the Heart to Heart Art Box. The idea is that the box will be filled with beautiful, simple art tools... and some ideas... and philosophies."
"We wanted to test the waters with one or two schools first, so we have reached out to a little school in a little town near Moree, called Tulloona. I wanted to find an area that was severely affected by drought... and Tulloona only has seven [students]."
Ms Rankin, who was shattered by the accidental death of her 11-year-old daughter in 2006, has experienced first-hand the power of art therapy.
She found comfort in painting, and decided she wanted other struggling young women in Forster to find that too. The result is the Heart to Heart program, which has been running now for 11 years.
"[Art] helps in calming the brain, bringing joy back into life, splashing in colour - it's really about mindfulness in actionDonna Rankin
For 15-year-old student Imogen Johnson, who previously attended the program, the benefits are clear.
"It helped me amazingly. Mentally, I was not in a good place at the time and [the program] made me forget everything that was going on," she said.
It was after hearing how drought and bushfires were affecting young people's mental health that Ms Rankin was inspired to expand. Art, she says, has the capacity to not only brighten harsh landscapes, but to also brighten a child's day.
"[It] helps in calming the brain, bringing joy back into life, splashing in colour - it's really about mindfulness in action."
She is adamant that the success of the Heart to Heart program, and the positive reception to the art box initiative, is further proof of the need for greater funding for the arts.
"The arts are so powerful at helping us heal and helping us cope [and] allowing us to express ourselves in a way that reaches... other people's hearts. It's such an important part of our life."
To assist with the roll-out of the Art Box initiative, a GoFundMe page has been set up.
"We are expecting to have the boxes ready for roll-out by the end of [February] - that's our goal."
UTS Regional Reporting Project
Emily Kowal and Melanie Wong were members of a group of five University of Technology Sydney (UTS) journalism students who visited the Manning and Great Lakes in late January as part of the Regional Reporting Project.
During their visit the students learned about the function of a regional newsroom, the stories and lives of residents. They were particularly focused on climate change and how it affected regional communities. This is one of the stories they gathered.
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