Happy Hands Art Time has been reaching communities in a non-traditional way.

For Carolin Schmitz, there is something incredibly rewarding in children’s ministry. With her creative personality and willingness to serve, she founded Happy Hands Art Time, an award-winning, non-profit community art program that has been her ministry for a decade.

Happy Hands — developed to inspire and encourage creativity with toddlers — held its first session in 2011 at Nunawading Adventist church in Victoria.

“When the local newspaper came to take some pictures and do a short story, it made the front page that week, and registrations naturally went crazy,” Carolin explained.

The ministry expanded after a request from Edinburgh Primary School, something Carolin had not even considered. Thirteen locations have since opened across New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania (pre-COVID-19).

Happy Hands Art Time was born after difficult times changed Carolin’s perspective. “We’d just spent 10 years running our own business, and we were picking up the pieces after losing absolutely everything. Having to declare bankruptcy with two very young children was not easy,” she explains.

This experience made her change her focus in life. “I did not want to continue to spend my life chasing things, and I found myself wanting to put my time and effort into giving back to the community,” she recollects.

After much prayer, Carolin decided to create an environment that nurtured process-based creativity and special quality time between parent and child. “[As] I was homeschooling both of my children, I was definitely aware of the mess one could create at home, particularly with art,” she says, explaining the program’s motto, “The mess stays with us!”

With the program run mid-week and the 1.5-hour sessions based on nature, animals, events, and community, Happy Hands has been an opportunity to connect with families in the community.

“There are so many stories that flow in from locations on how Happy Hands Art Time has impacted personal life,” Carolin says, “from being a support for families during loss, a place to fill a void of loneliness, a place where parents feel supported in the growth and development of their child.”

That is the main reason why Happy Hands Art Time is only run in Adventist churches or schools. “There is a lot of heart, passion, and dedication within all of the volunteer teams. It’s a wonderful, warm group of people who care about their community,” Carolin explains.

A few years after Happy Hands was created, when she was still living in Melbourne, Carolin and a few members of the Gateway church developed a similar program to run on Saturday (Sabbath) mornings. “Our Happy Hearts program is based on introducing Bible stories in a fun and creative way. Both programs are completely structured and very similar in a predictable flow, which is important for the short attention spans of little ones.”

When all the locations running the sessions had to close their doors due to COVID-19, Carolin said her “heart went out to the many families that have been a part of it for so long.”

“I could not just do nothing.”

So Carolin decided to think outside the box again and developed a way to take the activities and warm hugs to the families in lockdown.

“We created a sister program online, Happy Hearts TV. This met a need during this lockdown period that only God could foresee.” The YouTube channel has more than 30 uploaded episodes that share fun activities, stories, and songs inspired by the Bible and the love of Jesus to hundreds of homes.

With the easing of COVID restrictions in Australia, Happy Hands Art Time locations are starting to reopen in 2021. A church or school wanting to run the program follows a 10-week term booklet and is supported by weekly instruction videos. “We send out the entire term’s craft packs with instructions and support them with the registration process and advertising,” Carolin explained.

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.

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