25 Years of Impacting Lives Through Art

“The struggle is knowing there is greater purpose in our suffering, “says Margaret Beresford, founder of Free Arts for the Abused Children of Arizona, as she talks to Carey about her childhood suffering and her motivation to build a thriving non-profit.

Margaret says art saved her life. In turn, she’s helped transform the lives of thousands of Arizona children over the past 25 years. Her dream grew into something spectacular. Her organization, Free Arts, delivers creative and therapeutic art programs, at no cost, to children ages 3 – 21 who have or are suffering from abuse, neglect or homelessness.

As a child, Margaret did not have friends because her mom was an alcoholic. She felt isolated, alone, and at age 14 she contemplated taking her own life. Her mom had an undiagnosed mental illness and was an alcoholic until she passed. Even though Margaret went to her Dad for help, her father was aware of the stigma around mental health. He did not want the family or others to know what was going on in their lives, so Margaret suffered alone.

While in college, Margaret continued with the arts, which she found helped her recover from her childhood suffering. It was through a final art project she came to understand that strength came from vulnerability, and through the art process, she was able to reclaim her internal power. Her artwork allowed her to share her story with others.

From there, Free Arts for the Abused Children of Arizona was born.

“I connected with the mission, which is bringing the healing effects of the arts to children. I connected with that on a very deep level,” Margaret says.

Even though one of her mentors said to stop, Margaret moved forward. And even though another lady Margaret sought out for guidance said that only 1 in 100 non-profits are around after one year, she was determined to succeed where others failed.

Margaret felt a burning need to get this done, to change and save the lives of children who were suffering. She felt this in her whole being. She continued to move forward with total conviction. What kept her going? Margaret Beresford had an “undying passion” for art therapy and how it had saved her own life. She believes art heels and transforms lives through creative expression. Trained in spontaneous art therapy, which is about creating a safe space, Margaret believes art is helpful with intense emotions and experiences, especially for trauma victims. So at Free Arts, all types of artistic expression are explored, allowing every child to be touched, whether it is through music, painting, dance or another form.

Margaret has seen traumatized kids, who need to tell their story the most, sabotage goodness. There have been many stories that stand out over the years. Margaret tells of one, in particular, where a young girl refused to participate in group art. This child went home, used her own make up, her mascara, to express herself, to create her art. Margaret goes on to say that each story needs to be told, but the kids must be allowed to move forward in their own time.

Being a deep thinker, Margaret says,” Starting Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona made sense of my past and brought purpose to my childhood.”

Free Arts has brought about change and impacted the lives of more than 122,000 children. Currently Free Arts has 14 staff members, more than 800 trained volunteers and continues to serve and impact the lives of more than 8,000 children each year providing them a chance for a future.

After 25 years, Margaret Beresford remains passionate and continues to believe in her statement. “Art helps us get through our suffering and allows us to get to the other side.”