DANBURY, Conn. (AP) — When 10-year-old Chelsea Phaire feels stressed or upset, she turns to her sketch pad.
She has filled hundreds of pages with drawings of her favorite characters and over the past two years has created 90 graphic novels.
"It's kind of like therapy," she said.
Now, she uses art to bring that same peace to children who need it the most..
Chelsea has started her own charity where she collects art supplies and creates kits for children, often in homeless shelters, who have gone through a traumatic experience. She provides art lessons to the kids, too.
Called Chelsea's Charity, the Pembroke Elementary School student and her family have compiled and donated hundreds art kits to children in Connecticut and New York homeless shelters, as well as a school in El Paso, Texas, where the community is recovering from a recent mass shooting at a Walmart.
Soon, she plans to send 300 kits to children in Haiti, while an adult version is going to local veterans. Teens in Atlanta plan to work with her to create their own kits, and Chelsea is considering creating a healing coloring book.
"Art is a start," Chelsea said. "Art is my super power. If you're kind to someone, it can turn their life around. One small act of kindness could really impact something in someone's life."
The kids Chelsea teaches have been instilled with a sense that they can make a difference, too, said her mother, Candace Barriteau Phaire.
"I have cried several times doing this with her," she said. "It's really moving to see little people be inspired by someone who is little like them."
The idea developed after Chelsea received an expensive art kit from a family friend and realized most children were not fortunate enough to have something similar.
For her 10th birthday, she asked for art supplies in lieu of gifts and received 200 items — enough for 10 kits. The family then created an Amazon Wishlist and PayPal account, where people could donate supplies and money. Sketch books, markers, crayons, colored pencils and more are requested in Chelsea's favorite brands.
"We wanted to give the best to others," Barriteau Phaire said.
Thanks to social media, Chelsea's mission has spread, with people across the country contributing to her cause and sending her messages of support.
Last month, Chelsea and her mom flew to El Paso to give kits to children at MacArthur Elementary/Intermediate School, where families were told to reunite after the August shooting at the nearby Cielo Vista Walmart. The shooting had been about a week before Chelsea's birthday.
The mother and daughter shipped 15 boxes of supplies to their hotel and compiled 130 kits there before Chelsea delivered the items and taught the students an art lesson.
School officials noted how much the experience meant to the students.
"The kids here are ecstatic and very appreciative," counselor Julie Pedregon said to the El Paso Herald-Post at the time. "Words are so minimal to describe what she's doing. It means a lot coming from someone her age who is putting aside her wants and asking for gifts for others."
Barriteau Phaire, an early childhood professor at Central Connecticut State University, said the children have connected their emotions to their artwork.
"This is really what kids do need more of nowadays, so they can channel this energy into something more positive, a way to communicate when you can't," she said.
Chelsea has stayed in touch with at least one friend she made in El Paso and savors the drawing gifted to her by another girl.
"It's my favorite drawing in this book," she said as she gazed at the sketch of a character the girl created.
One child thanked Chelsea profusely for the kit.
"It really makes me want to cry so badly," she said. "They were so kind in their artwork and their thank-you letters. It warms my heart."
After the lesson, kids' skills improve, Chelsea said. But drawing well is not the point, she said.
"Even if you're not good at it, it just feels good," she said. "You can just escape to the arts whenever you need."
Information from: The News-Times, http://www.newstimes.com