The kind of darkness that eclipses every sliver of life’s light descended at a young age for 16-year-old Nevaeh White and didn’t retreat until it nearly extinguished her short existence.

“I had several overdose attempts with near-death experiences and a lot of hospitalization, which took away my childhood,” White says quietly.

She has no memory of losing her family as a toddler, when she was removed from her home, separated from her siblings and father, and placed in foster care.

But the difficulties that followed are etched deeply in her mind, and now her pain, struggles and triumphs have emerged through art.

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Sixteen-year-old Nevaeh White and a piece of her artwork are captured as a double exposure in-camera at Kids Crossing, a foster care agency in Colorado Springs. Several of White’s pieces are being featured in a first-ever exhibit from Kids Crossing called “Through Our Eyes.”

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“My life has always been kind of hard, and I’m not always able to use my words to express how I feel,” White said. “When I’m able to paint it out, it helps me express how I’m really feeling and show that type of story in ways I don’t think words can.”

Several of White’s pieces are being featured in a first-ever exhibit from Kids Crossing, a foster care agency in Colorado Springs.

Artists in the “Through Our Eyes” show include foster kids and those who have been adopted, members of foster families and staff of Kids Crossing.

Art from the front lines of the foster care system will be displayed in the “Through Our Eyes” show Wednesday through May 31 at Library 21c, 1175 Chapel Hills Drive, during May’s observance of National Foster Care Month.

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In depicting her journey of letting go of the bad stuff and embracing the good, White painted a silhouette of a girl standing on the edge if a cliff with a crayon melt arcing around her.

“It means she’s letting go of her problems, at peace with herself and finding ways to be free in that moment and express herself,” White said.

Being in foster care is tough because it produces a feeling of powerlessness, said Enzo, who’s also 16. He entered the system at age 10.

“Sometimes it feels like you have no control over life whatsoever,” he said. “It’s really hard to be separated from your biological family, and there’s a lot of feelings to deal with.”

But when Enzo, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy, makes art, his thoughts and feelings flow straight from the right side of his brain to the pencil or paint brush in his hand.

“I have full control of what I do and what I use to express myself,” he said.

Enzo likes incorporating his Mexican culture and heritage into his work, including “The Breath of Life,” which will appear in the exhibit at Library 21c.

Using traditional and Indigenous images, the painting portrays the joy and contentment he felt when his sister had a baby last year.

“I want other people to understand how important life is, and giving life is pretty great,” said Enzo, who aspires to attend an art college after high school.

Art can help the stubbornest of teen clients communicate in a nonverbal way that speaks volumes, said Allyson Hadley, a Kids Crossing clinical therapist who uses art in counseling.

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An artist, Hadley said seeing the children’s perspectives through their use of music, video, dance, drawing, painting and other artistic forms gives insight into a particular moment in time.

“Art is a universal language that we can get a lot of a story and background through,” she said. “It’s a place these kids can go that they feel safe and get to express whatever they want without being punished for it.”

Art also can mean different things to consumers than creators. One of Hadley’s clients, who’s a graffiti artist, thinks society sees him as a destructive criminal and other ugly images, which he believes comes across in his art.

“In reality his artwork is beautiful,” Hadley said.

One of her pieces slated to be in the show is something she created during COVID, with her then 6-year-old son right beside her doing his own version.

Hadley’s swirly design is reminiscent of a seashell, as the activity became a way for the mother and boy to navigate the murky pandemic waters.

“I was trying to help myself and my son cope when we were stuck inside,” she said. “Looking at it now, I think it’s chaotic — we’re spiraling out of control, we don’t have an end and we don’t know what the end is going to be. Just kind of messy but beautiful.”

In studying each piece, exhibit viewers will learn something about themselves, Hadley believes.

“It’s powerful,” she said of the artwork.

Don’t expect to see anything along the lines of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” said White, who intends to go to college to become an art therapist.

Now sober, drug-free and no longer suicidal, White said she feels vulnerable in sharing her work with people she doesn’t know. But she’s decided to be brave and put it all out there.

“Those are my stories about my life, and some are not always nice,” she said.

But the good days outshine the bad now, she said. White rediscovered her love of art after spending seven months of last year in a residential treatment home with other youths who are struggling with mental health issues, including addiction.

“Art brought me inner peace,” she said. “It’s helped me when I’m upset to calm me.”

White was adopted from foster care at age 3.

On any given day, about 540 El Paso County children are living in foster homes or with relatives or friends of the family, said Kristina Iodice, spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Human Services.

Each month, 130 kids need placement, she said, with most cases being successful, though 50 kids are seeking placement at any time.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656


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