Jeff Walker first learned of the A.R.T. Program in 2010 through an employee event while working at Citi Bank. However, it was years later before he became involved with the program.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” said Walker. “Between my job and school, I almost literally had no time.” Later when things began to slow down and spread out, Walker was able to pursue volunteering. In 2013 Walker began volunteering with The Arc Jacksonville as an A.R.T. tracker.
The A.R.T. program works with The Arc Jacksonville’s medically fragile participants who have severe physical disabilities as well as developmental disabilities. The program uses trackers who volunteer and serve as surrogate hands for the artists. Walker admits that one of his biggest challenges as a tracker is learning each artist’s personality and communication style. He understands that although many of the artists are non-verbal, each has their own unique way of communicating, whether it’s tilting their head a certain way or raising their hands.
Every Thursday when Walker volunteers he wears the same brown shirt. Although it may be 10 years old it isn’t your typical shirt; Walker has made plans to turn this shirt into a gift.
“Once it becomes filled with enough paint marks, I plan to frame it and donate it to The Arc,” he said. Walker found that the artists like to see him get paint on himself. “It started out with me being lazy and wiping paint on myself, but then the artists laughed at me and seemed to like it.” He explained that every paint mark is a unique color from each artists and it reminds him of each of their personalities.
Walker’s experience as an A.R.T. tracker has taught him the importance of volunteering and the profound effects it can have on the lives of others. “If I can help get a piece of artwork made, I feel I’ve had a positive influence on an artist life,” he said. “Without a volunteer that art may never have been realized.”
He plans to volunteer with The Arc Jacksonville for a long time. “This is the first time I’ve volunteered for anything that I felt actually benefited my community,” said Walker. He hopes that volunteering as a tracker continues to be the best experience of his life.
Written by Alex McClain, Development VISTA