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Angels of Joy: Bringing Human Connection to Institutional Settings

“The secret to this hug, this shift in A.’s behavior, was that we gave him love and care; we listened to him, we paid attention and, most of all, we saw him as who he was: a child.”

Nonprofit Angels of Joy was created ten years ago to offer psychosocial support through art to children, older adults, and people with disabilities living in institutions. But, most importantly, the organization was born out of the belief that no person should feel invisible. This includes children under court protection orders who live in hospitals, children who have been separated from their families and are living in institutional settings, people with severe disabilities facing alienation from society through their living situations. Being able to have positive human interactions should not be contingent, Angels of Joy thinks, on the kindness and availability of busy nurses and caregivers.

Using an improvisational methodology that incorporates elements of theater, art, and music therapy, Angels of Joy reaches out to the institutions that serve society’s most vulnerable members, assesses their needs, and focuses on clients’ individual circumstances. Then, they design a program tailored to each participant, assemble staff—educators, music therapists, child psychologists, and teaching artists—and get to work.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) supported the organization’s “Giving Wings to Facilities in Need” program to bring joy through art to some of the people most marginalized by society. SNF’s grant significantly increased the number children who have been separated from their families and people with severe disabilities in institutionalized situations who could take part in Angels of Joy’s programming and how frequently that programming was offered. With their consistent presence, considered methodology, and desire to inspire children and adults, the organization gives clients opportunities to socialize, empowers creative expression, and, perhaps most importantly, helps foster confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of belonging. Their programming also helps ease the workload of caregivers and nurses whose attention is pulled in many directions.

The advent of the pandemic set the work of Angels of Joy on new paths. When it became impossible for on-site visits to institutions to take place, Angels of Joy created a series of videos that were tailored to the needs of their beneficiaries and shared the material with their partner institutions. The material was updated continually based on user feedback. Their work had to go on—simply shifting, as it did for so many others, to video meetings.

As important as it is to offer joy, the Angels of Joy aim to achieve something even deeper and more substantial. They seek to give voice to silence, to offer warmth to combat loneliness, to form essential human connections. For most of us, hearing our name called is an everyday occurrence. For some people who are just like us, only born into different circumstances, Angels of Joy have found that it can be an invitation to a new chapter of life.