LYNN — Raw Art Works changed Christian Angel-Deleon’s life.
Now 17 years old and ready for college, Angel-Deleon said his eight years at RAW helped him learn how to manage his depression and guided him as he came out as gay to his friends and family. Learning how to express himself through various forms of art taught him to be comfortable in his own skin, he said.
“I can’t draw or paint for the life of me,” Angel-Deleon said. “Somehow RAW helped me sculpt my life into my art and helped me with how I choose to present myself.”
This year, as a speaker at the after-school program’s annual BASH fundraiser, Angel-Deleon will share his story to a crowded room for the first time.
He began his career at RAW when he was 9 years old, following two older brothers and three older cousins.
“I didn’t want to come at first, but eight years later and I’m still here,” he said. “I very quickly picked up on the vibe that this is a safe space.”
When he first started at RAW, Angel-Deleon said he was a chubby kid with glasses just trying to find himself. He said he struggled heavily when it came to dealing with his depression. The art therapy-focused program taught him to incorporate his feelings into his art pieces, he said.
Not only did RAW and its staff help him feel comfortable enough to come out as gay to his loved ones two years ago, he said the program helped his family be more understanding. With RAW’s doors open to people searching for ways to express themselves, Angel-Deleon said he and his family met people from all different walks of life.
“RAW helped my family change the way they think about society in general,” he said. “I would have not been able to come out to them without this place. It gave me the confidence boost to tackle the world.”
The thought of leaving RAW and moving on to the next chapter of his life gives him anxiety, he said. But, as the last one in his family to go through the program, Angel-Deleon said he knows they left a forever mark on the building.
“RAW changed who I am and this building opens opportunities for people,” he said. “I want to be able to give back to RAW the way they gave back to me.”
The Lynn English High School senior will begin studying psychology with a concentration in child and adolescent development at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst this fall.
“I want to go to college so I can help out future generations of kids like me who want to express themselves the way I learned to here,” he said.
He scored a number of college scholarships all on his own, but he was still left with an $8,000 tuition bill for his freshman year. With help from RAW’s Project Launch Coordinator Kaitlyn Farmer, he was awarded the Red Pine Scholarship this week, which gave him $9,500, more than what he needed to close the gap.
That support is what he’ll remember as he prepares for college. For Angel-Deleon, the lessons he learned at RAW changed the course of his life.
“Without RAW, I’d probably be in a ditch or lying somewhere in a dark alley,” he said.