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The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is committed to engage and inspire through the arts, gardens and education. A permanent collection of nearly 5,000 works of art on a riverfront campus offers more than 95,000 annual visitors a truly unique experience on the First Coast. Nationally recognized education programs serve adults and children of all abilities.

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VSA – Experiences of Past Volunteers



Photo by Ingrid Damiani

We are coming up on our 16th annual Very Special Arts Festival, where we open the entire museum up to over 2,000 special needs students from over 50 schools throughout the greater Jacksonville area for four days.  Last year 1216 volunteers devoted their time and talent to the festival.  I thought it would be nice to share some VSA experiences.

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“It was one of the most fun and inspiring events I’ve had the pleasure to attend in some time.  The work you are doing and opportunities being offered to our students through the Museum are simply remarkable.  Thank you again for allowing me to witness such a wonderful undertaking and for filling my heart with hope.”  -Josephine Jackson, J.D., Executive Director, Equity and Inclusion, Duval County Public Schools

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“This year I was fortunate enough to spend one day one-on-one with the children and the experience was very moving and unforgettable.  My first child was a three-year-old boy, in a wheelchair who, only with great effort, could hold up his head and breathe.  But he bravely held onto my fingers and tried very hard to color his project.  He was the sweetest child whose life had been impacted by some event or illness completely beyond his control, but whose bravery and efforts to please would make even the hardest among us weep…  These experiences were repeated several times with children who were black and white, young and old, with varying levels of disability, but each one, without exception, seemed to take great pleasure in what they were accomplishing and with the praise and attention they were getting.  I must say, it was a very poignant and rewarding experience for all of us volunteers.”  -Gee Gabbert, Volunteer

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“My students were so exited about going!  The “greeting drums” were so welcoming and added to the excitement.  I know my students feel enriched by the kindness and encouragement of new friends (your volunteers).  To me, that is where the magic happens!  This contributes to the students social development as well as learning to try new things.  I cannot imagine the VSA Arts Festival being better!  I am always amazed by the effort that must go into such a terrific festival.  It’s our favorite day of the school year!  Thank you for everything! P.S., my parents that helped were amazed as well!”  -Anonymous Teacher

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“Yes, did so with my elementary education art’s class with my professor and a few others. It was fabulous!! 🙂 I would do it again in a heart beat!!”  -Jaclyn Waterman, Volunteer

“It was our joy to play music for this event for years. The Ancient City Slickers.”  –Kayla Killingsworth Douglas, Performer, Ancient City Slickers

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“I did last year.  It was amazing.  I worked in the paint room with the kids.  These kids are smart and expressive and it is truely amazing.  People under estimate them because of their handicaps, but they will never realize how talented and bright these kids are unless they spend time with them.  It was an experience I will always cherish and never forget.”  –Patricia Ashley Ortiz, Volunteer

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“I just had to email and thank you for allowing us to come to the festival yesterday.  It was absolutely magical for us.  My son, who we are not able to take many places, simply came alive at the museum.  He LOVED the music with…I forget his name, the guy with the dreadlocks 😉 and actually got up and danced at one point.  He was super interactive in the children’s room, and couldn’t get enough of the dark room where you can see your self on the projection screen.  That alone was worth the trip.  We even took him to lunch afterwards and he was SO well behaved we could hardly believe it.  My husband doesn’t often have a chance to see Ben flourish like that, so it offered him such a great deal of hope for our son.  So than you, for all your hard work.  It was an amazing experience.  You have touched so many children and families, including mine.”  -Janeen Herskovitz, HEAL Foundation

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“Many of my students have difficulty expressing themselves academically but are able to do so artistically.  The VSA Festival gives them the opportunity to create beautiful things that are not scrutinized for having flaws, like their school work.”  -Anonymous Teacher

“Never under estimate a childs heart no matter what conidition you find them in.  Last year I was challenged by emotions every day of  VSA, and VSA change my life in dealing with children with needs.”  -Willie Johns, Volunteer

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“Every year, our students enjoy attending Very Special Arts at The Cummer.  Our group includes the students, preschool through fifth grade, served in the profoundly mentally handicapped and emotionally mentally handicapped programs.  This annual event significantly benefits each and every child, no matter the range of challenges they face in learning.  It is apparent by the students’ attentiveness and huge smiles of pride of accomplishment with each completed project.  Art enrichment is an essential component in the growth and development of all children and is greatly enhanced by this incredible festival.”  -Amy Roberts, Teacher, Neptune Beach Elementary

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

“This was by far my favorite event we have done so far.  I can’t wait until next year.”  -Cindi Ross, Company Operations Manager, Firehouse Restaurant Group Inc.

“Once again, we are incredibly grateful for VSA.  This one field trip is the only field trip the PMH (Profoundly Mentally Handicapped) students participate in yearly.  We love coming.  The opportunity to be immersed in the arts for a day in the beautiful setting of The Cummer is special.  Thank you for letting us come each year.  The leaders and volunteers make it a breeze to the teachers.”  -Anonymous Teacher

If you are interested in volunteering for the festival, please call Jan Thomas at 904-355-0630.

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