Ophelia Ding



I moved to the city four months ago, and what a good, growing time its been.

Living in San Francisco has made it impossible to ignore the blatant disparity between the rich and the poor.  On my commute to work, I walk past the same people experiencing homelessness every single day. I see the tents, the signs, the makeshift beds and the people scurrying past — right outside my office lobby. And when I badge in, I eat free catered lunches and dinners and complain about the rate fancy snacks are consumed. The dichotomy between these two worlds seems impossible to close. How can it be that in a city so innovative and wealthy, so many homeless line the streets? 

What has helped me begin to process and bridge this gap is volunteering with DrawBridge. DrawBridge is a non-profit that provides free arts programs for homeless and other underserved youth at homeless shelters, safe houses and low-income housing sites. I’ve had the privilege of volunteering at one of these sites for three months now, and it has been an illuminating, rewarding experience. 

Training to volunteer with DrawBridge helped me better understand the issue of homelessness (though I still have so much to learn), especially how it impacts children:

There is a common misconception that homelessness is an issue that only pertains to single men and women, but in reality there are 2.5 million children in the U.S. who experienced homelessness in 2013, an increase of 8% over the previous year (Newsweek). Homelessness is a devastating experience for families. It disrupts virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children's education and development, and frequently resulting in the separation of family members. One of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population is families with children. (U.S. Dept. of Education). 

Children facing housing insecurity are “severely impacted by circumstances beyond their control. They share family concerns for survival, and are often prematurely forced to assume adult responsibilities, cutting short the developmental experiences inherent in childhood," which is where DrawBridge comes in.

"Through art, children can more easily express deeply felt, difficult emotions. For these kids, who may be unable to put words to their experiences, the act of producing art has a proven, powerful healing impact.” -DrawBridge

Early on, I was struck by how much these sweet children crave consistency and dependability. On my first day, two of the children asked me if I was going to be there the next week. The kids oftentimes show up to class early, and peek their head in the doors to see if we’ve started setting up. For many of these kids, things outside of DrawBridge may be constantly changing, so having a reliable, safe space to create art every week is important and impactful. During art group, their only responsibility is to be a kid. 

It is a privilege to make art with these children, who have taught me more than I could ever hope to teach them. It is even more of a privilege to start to build relationships with them —  I love singing Frozen songs with them, learning about their stuffed animals and hearing about their favorite subjects at school.

Since today is #GivingTuesday and my 23rd birthday is coming up this weekend, I wanted to ask all of the incredible people in my life to celebrate with me by considering a donation to DrawBridge. DrawBridge has plans to open seven new art groups between now and next July, with new sites coming at the Raphael House in San Francisco and OMA Village in Novato (located in Northern Marin County).  

Here’s where your donation will go:

  • An art program costs $6500 per year to run
  • Sponsoring an art group facilitator costs $2250 annually
  • Art supplies for a group amount to $600 per year
  • Adopt-an-artist – you can sponsor one child for an entire year for $100

Donate here. If you donate on #GivingTuesday (11/28), Facebook is waiving donation fees & matching (!!) up to $1000 per fundraiser.

P.S. Drawbridge is always looking for more volunteers! At the site I volunteer at, there are only two of us working: me and my wonderful facilitator, Tamela – and we could really use a hand. Learn more about volunteering here. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions!