few years ago, Ben Lasso was looking for a job. He didn’t have a set vision for his future and didn’t see any real direction in his life. That is when he came across Life Pieces to Masterpieces, an art mentoring organization running out of Drew Elementary School in Capitol Heights. When he came in to be interviewed for a mentoring position, he couldn’t believe what he witnessed there. He thought that it was “too cool to be real.”
Now 23 years old, he said that Life Pieces has helped him find himself and discover talents that had previously been unknown to him. It has also taught him what it means to be a mentor and example for young boys.
Life Pieces serves young African American boys and men, ages 3 to 25. Their mission is to awaken their innate creative abilities with love and support, physical and emotional security, and an environment where they feel comfortable expressing themselves through the arts. The program brings in kids from 25 different schools in the area, giving rides to those who need them.
One of the founders of Life Pieces, artist Larry Quick, believed that young boys needed a free place to go after school, as well as a friendly environment where they could create art.
“[Quick] wanted a space for boys to be able to be their true selves and express themselves artistically without fear of judgment,” Community Engagement Coordinator Andrew Blickle said.
Every day after school, young ‘apprentices’ ranging from Pre-K through middle school are brought to Life Pieces. They are free to express themselves through painting, drawing on color sheets, and other art activities. Because the kids have such a range of interests, they are given the choice of participating in other activities besides visual art, such as performing arts and sports. The apprentices also receive help with their homework and learn about different educational subjects from the mentors. These different programs are offered to broaden their horizons and teach them something that wouldn’t normally be taught in school.
Mentors also have the opportunity to teach the apprentices about something they are passionate about. On Fridays, the “I Can” program is taught by one of the mentors on anything the volunteer would like to teach. Some of the past workshops have included screenwriting, physics, and Taiko drumming. This program lets the apprentices tap an interest or talent they might not have known they had before.
Some of the mentors that work at Life Pieces are junior mentors, apprentices who are pursuing a high school or post-high school education. These students mentor the young apprentices during the after school program, then attend the Saturday Academy program on the weekend themselves, where they receive help with their education and professional track, like becoming an education aid in the classroom or working towards their own academic success.
Because of their location in Ward 7, Life Pieces has found it challenging to bring volunteers from the other side of the Anacostia River. Life Pieces has made strides to tackle this issue by shuttling volunteers to and from the Capitol Heights Metro Station.
Life Pieces is looking for volunteers who are comfortable with themselves and carry themselves with positive energy to make a positive impact on the boys and young men. Someone who is confident in themselves and has experiences they want to share with students would be well respected and honored. Before signing on to be a mentor, it is required to undergo a DC Public School background test, which includes fingerprinting and TB test.
Life Pieces strives to teach these boys and young men the values of life and how to respect one another. But the apprentice impacts the mentor, too. Blickle said that the bonding experience that mentors and apprentices share is something that will last forever in the young men’s memories.
“All you need to volunteer is an innate creative ability, which we all have, a desire to share it, and a desire to learn about others,” Blickle said. “In doing so, you get the opportunity to grow your character, your professionalism and meet these extraordinary young men.”
To learn more about Life Pieces, visit lifepieces.org.
If you are interested in volunteering, you can fill out the online sign up form.