LYNN — To outsiders, Raw Art Works is an after-school program, but to members and staff, it’s a “second home.”
De’Andre Hardy became a RAW member when he was six years old. Now, at 19, Hardy is off to study international business at Brandeis University on a nearly full boat scholarship. The Lynn English High School senior said he would not have gotten this far if it weren’t for the staff at RAW, particularly Jason Cruz and Kaitlyn Farmer.
“They gave me the communication, leadership, and courage to express myself and be myself,” Hardy said. “RAW really gets the title of being my second home. People create relationships here that make you want to stay.”
Hardy was one of 20 students selected for the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program, which will annually provide the Lynn native with $60,000, leaving his tuition costs under $3,000.
“I wasn’t even going to do the Myra Kraft interview but Kaitlyn (Farmer) talked me into it,” said Hardy. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without everyone here.”
In 2006, Hardy’s mom wanted to find an after-school program interesting enough for her only son. He joined that summer and said he fell in love with the program immediately. By sophomore year, he became a RAW chief, mentoring young members using the same lessons he learned from his own mentors.
The moment that really sparked it all for him came during his transition to middle school when he met Cruz, RAW’s current clinical supervisor and former art therapist of more than two decades. Cruz was the group leader for an all boys session, where Hardy was the youngest by a few years.
“The first person I ever cried in front of was Jason,” said Hardy. “Family-wise, I just had so much going on at that time and Jason was there and was able to read all of my emotions and I just broke down for the first time in my life. He gave me the feeling he was there for me. I’ve always considered him my third dad.”
Cruz said the staff members at RAW are privileged, because they get to work with so many young people with potential they don’t even realize — like Hardy.
“De’Andre made a choice,” said Cruz. “He could have remained the quiet, shy kid but he chose not to. His greatest talent is how he sees and hears people.”
It takes a village to raise a kid, according to Cruz, and the many RAW members throughout the years provided that village. Farmer, RAW’s current Project Launch coordinator, is an alumna. She started the program in sixth grade and climbed every step of the organization’s ladder.
Farmer was Hardy’s first chief mentor when he was in middle school. He said he has always considered her an older sister. When Farmer was a senior in high school, she worked closely with her own RAW mentors and coordinators and landed herself a full ride to Emmanuel College.
“When I was growing up, RAW was a second home because it was a place where I felt I could be myself,” she said. “Now, when I see a kid like De’Andre get a life-changing scholarship, that’s when I know my job is done. Full circle, that’s what happens here at RAW.”
Without funding, RAW would have a hard time mentoring its young members, according to Hardy, Cruz, and Farmer. The organization’s biggest funding source is its annual BASH fundraiser, coming up on Saturday, May 11.
Those interested in attending the black and white themed “party with a purpose” will be helping the future members and mentors at RAW, according to Farmer.
“A place like RAW is important because being able to express who you are through art is not common,” said Hardy. “Having role models with me that made me feel supported and learning from all my mentors made me the chief I am today. I get to spend my time in a room teaching kids everything I’ve learned over the years.”