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Art Helps Foster Children Feel at Home

The Painted Butterfly's Holly Jones personalizes the rooms at Cartersville's Flowering Branch children's shelter.

Kennesaw artist Holly Jones in March. Now that idea is thriving through her work at the , where she provides artwork for the children's bedrooms and the opportunity to create their own projects.

“She gives away some of her stuff,” said a girl who is a new resident at the children’s shelter and has been to Jones' art shop in downtown Kennesaw, , twice. On request, her name is not being used in this story. “She just lets us have it to decorate our rooms. I think that’s very giving and loving of her.”

Hundreds of Thousands of Kids

Eight children are staying at Flowering Branch now, though that number, like the numbers across the country, fluctuates.

The Georgia Department of Family and Children Services said 7,000 children are in foster care in the state at any given time. Approximately 286 children are in  now.

According to information from Child Trends available through the federal Child Welfare Information Gateway, on Sept. 30, 2009, the most recent statistics available, 423,773 children were in foster care in the United States. Of those, 48 percent were in nonrelative foster family homes.

“You’re brought in there, and you’ve got this room with nothing personal in it. You don’t have anything, so what are you going to do? I have fun with it.”

The number of children in foster care declined 23 percent from 544,000 nine years earlier, but the number entering foster care each year fell only 12 percent, from 287,000 to 255,000, and actually rose to a peak of 308,000 in 2005.

In other words, children are cycling through the foster system more quickly.

A Piece of Art of Their Own

“It’s a huge problem,” Jones said. “The stories I hear from the kids I work with are heartbreaking. Everybody needs to be made more aware of it, and more government funds need to go toward this. It’s just a real problem. The numbers are just staggering. I’m just determined to do all I can.”

Flowering Branch and Jones are striving to make the children feel at home until they can find the security of more permanent arrangements.

Each child at Flowering Branch has a piece of artwork painted by Jones. She uses the children’s interests, such as the Georgia Bulldogs, horses and favorite quotes, to paint personalized pieces for their bedrooms at the shelter.

Jones also crochets items like afghans, purses and toys for the children and gives them whatever items they like in her store, said Marian Barber, the volunteer coordinator for Advocates for Bartow’s Children.

In addition, Jones' artwork decorates the walls of the common area and kitchen.

“When I’ve been down there, I can hardly even get the trunk closed on my car,” Barber said of her trips to the Kennesaw store.

The girl at Flowering Branch said she loves going to The Painted Butterfly because she loves Jones’ personality and her unique artwork.

“You can’t find her artwork anywhere else,” the girl said. “If you go somewhere else and look for something she has, you won’t find it.”

Jones enjoys creating artwork to decorate the children’s rooms.

“You’re brought in there, and you’ve got this room with nothing personal in it,” she said. “You don’t have anything, so what are you going to do? I have fun with it.”

Getting Rid of the Trash Bags

Jones’ work with foster children began when she that she and her friends filled with blankets, toys, pillows and other items for kids who entered the system.

“Most of these children are taken in quickly, of course, many times in the middle of the night,” Jones said. “They have nothing with them. If they do have something with them, it’s in a trash bag, and that’s unacceptable to me.”

Donations of suitcases, toys, blankets, books, pillows, clothes, paint and other items can be dropped off at The Painted Butterfly on Main Street in Kennesaw.

This article is part of "Dispatches: The Changing American Dream," our ongoing series about how people in Cartersville are adapting to the challenges of life in the 21st century. You can find more Dispatches from across the country at The Huffington Post.

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