Young volunteer helps ‘hope shine through’ at Buckner

Kaylee McGilbery, a 15-year-old Hardin Jefferson student, volunteered to paint a
Young volunteer helps ‘hope shine through’ at Buckner

Most 15-year-old girls spend their Saturdays hanging out at the mall with friends, catching the latest movie at the theater or having fun at sporting events. Kaylee McGilbery is definitely not like most girls. She has been devoting her time the past several Saturdays to helping make abused or neglected children feel better, and hopefully giving them a greater outlook on life through her latest art project, a loving hands mural.

McGilbery is a 10th grade Hardin Jefferson student who has always loved painting and drawing. Now, with the help of her grandmother, she combines the two with volunteering at Buckner Children’s Village.

“My grammy asked me if this was something that I wanted to do, and I’ve always painted and I’ve always drawn, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to give back,” McGilbery said.

She debuted the project March 15 and said the painting took over six weeks to complete. She was able to paint here and there between school and other extra-curricular activities.

McGilbery, who has won several awards for her artwork, including winning a Christmas card deign challenge and taking home a second place ribbon at the fair her sixth-grade year, said she came up with the idea while doodling one morning.

“I was just drawing early one morning, like 3 a.m. when I couldn’t sleep, and it just kind of came to me,” McGilbery said.

She said she was inspired to complete the project after seeing the hurt on some of the children’s faces. “My hope is that my painting adds a little beauty to their lives and gives them something to look forward to as a distraction from their pain.”

The mural, completed Sunday, March 15, covers an entire wall in the toddler room in the Buckner Emergency Shelter and Assessment Center.

“The toddler room is a room (where) we place children who need extra care and attention,” said Damon Bowden, the unit’s supervisor. “It’s also the first room anyone sees when walking in here, so the painting just brightens up the whole place.”

Bowden said the shelter is usually the first stop for children who come from abusive situations.

The center, which can house up to 16 children, provides short-term residential care for children between the ages of 5 and 17 while staff conduct a clinical assessment of physical, psychological, intellectual and behavioral health, as well as family history. The assessment ensures children are ultimately placed in the foster care or residential programs that meets their needs.

“For the first 72 hours, we are providing services to these children, so essentially every boy and girl who comes to Buckner’s stops here first,” Bowden said.

Laura May, executive director for the Children’s Village, said McGilbery’s mural is just one example of how local volunteers can spread hope to children in care. “We are currently recruiting volunteers to come in and dedicate their time to sharing arts and crafts projects with our children as we seek to brighten their lives with the gift of art,” May said.

McGilbery and her grandmother volunteer at Buckner regularly and enjoys doing crafts with the kids.

She says drawing and painting have always held special places in her heart, and she says it’s a great way to relieve stress and let out emotions.

“They can create anything you want,” she said. “There is no right or wrong; they can express themselves however they want.”

Bowden says when volunteers like Kaylee and her grammy come to visit the children, it helps them to relax and takes their minds off of whatever traumatic incident has occurred, if even just for a little while.

“I think it’s so cool that they are able to do this with the kids,” Bowden said. “It really gives them the opportunity to calm and sit back and to take their minds off of things.”

McGilbery says she would love to continue to artwork and paint and in the future hopes to focus more on her modeling and perfecting her special effects make-up skills.

She wants to encourage those who can to get out and volunteer and help others look for the good things in life. As for the children who will see her mural for years to come, she says she wants them to look at the painting and see hope.

“Try not look at the bad things in life,” McGilbery said. “Always look for the light.”

For more information on volunteering at Buckner Children Village, visit