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Celebration of Service

Art as therapy

HyungHwa Jang and IBM volunteers in Korea help students with disabilities express feelings through computer-aided drawings

“I’m blessed having been born healthy, and for having a terrific job and career,” says HyungHwa Jang, a marketing communications manager for IBM in Korea. “Because of that, it’s an honor to help others highlight their unique abilities within their physical or mental challenges.”

For more than twenty years, IBM in Korea has supported and partnered with the Seoul Rehabilitation Center On Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (Seoulidd). Since 1987, Seoulidd has hosted an annual sketch contest for people with disabilities, and in 2006, computer-aided drawing was added to the program with assistance from IBM volunteers.

Soon after joining IBM in 2003, HyungHwa acted on her desire to become a “face-to-face volunteer,” after having been a behind-the-scenes donor to various causes. “I got an email invitation to volunteer for the 'Drawing Contest for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ and I thought I can start volunteering at this contest without any anxiety because IBM supports and recommends it,” she says. “I applied without any hesitation.”

This year more than 1,300 young people with disabilities participated in Seoulidd’s drawing contest.

Helping communicate feelings

While IBM volunteers help students learn basic computer skills for job training and the possibility of earning an Information Technology Qualification certificate, what has become popular among the students is creating content on the computer using video clips, photos, and drawing software.

Art therapy is used with people with a wide range of difficulties and disabilities, and the process of self-expression can be one that builds confidence and provides a degree of healing. Computer-aided drawing technology has progressed, and one Seoulidd volunteer noticed that newer equipment might enable students to draw more elaborate designs that better communicate their feelings.

HyungHwa followed-up on that notion and applied for an IBM Catalyst Grant to fund graphics tablets, scanners and related equipment to make computer-aided drawing easier.

In June, 2011, Seoulidd was awarded the grant, and expects to see more applicants for next year’s contest, which means more students creating more art work—and potentially more healing on their path to realizing their highest possible capacities.

Most precious part, expressions of thanks

Last spring, IBM volunteers participated in an orientation session based on the On Demand Community solution called Volunteering with Students with Disabilities, to better understand how to guide them in the computer drawing contest and education sessions. On Demand Community is IBM’s global community that links the skills of over 200,000 IBM employee and retiree volunteers with access to IBM technology and training.

Thirty-two volunteers from IBM, and some of their family members, assisted with this year’s computer drawing contest, while another twenty-six helped with the computer education sessions.

One of HyungHwa’s best memories as a volunteer was a computer-drawing session with a student with autism. Volunteers are not supposed to help students with their actual drawings, only to help them express themselves using the tools. However this young man did not respond to HyungHwa at all, focusing on his drawing.

Nonetheless, she continued encouraging him and got very small hints of acknowledgement. As HyungHwa says, “When it was time to say good-bye to each other, before I said a word to him, he turned to me and said, 'Thank you.’ I was very happy he opened his mind to me even if a tiny bit. It was a really memorable moment for me.”

When it comes to volunteering, HyungHwa now says that it is “not a difficult or big thing—it’s also not as far away from you as you might think.”

More volunteers are needed to help with Seoulidd—volunteers with a mix of computer skills, but also those with patience and compassion. HyungHwa tells volunteers, “You don't need to wonder if you could be helpful to others. You will be helpful in any way once you are trying to be helpful, so don't hesitate to participate in volunteering.” She adds, “Just take a step.”

“The most personally satisfying thing is when the people I’ve helped say 'Thank you' and smile at me. That's the most precious part of being a volunteer, for me.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.