THE FIRST WHIMSIKID
In her senior year at Belmont, Casey Shackelford, 23, did an internship at an inner city elementary school in Nashville where many the students come from low-income families.
“One of the people I was working under told me 98 percent of the school had free or reduced lunch,” she said.
Casey described a moment that affected her greatly. She said noticed a girl in one of the classes with a talent for drawing.
“She was incredible at expressing herself,” she said. “One day I asked her she if she had any time to practice at home. She just looked at me with this puzzled look on her face. She said, ‘No my mama said we don’t have money for paper and crayons.’”
Casey said young girl’s response shocked her.
“We as humans were created to create and so unintentionally stifling that just doesn’t seem right. I’ve learned that not everyone has the luxury to create. It is a luxury, and I hate that.”
Casey doesn’t buy it when she hears people say that they aren’t creative and they don’t have that special gene. She said at young ages a child’s imaginations is incredible.
“When you get to the school age, the more you’re told you have to think this way, you have to be this way. If you draw a purple person, that’s not right,” she said. “The creative freedom ingrained in our minds is lost.”
Working and experiencing different parts of the city Casey saw a need for children to have creative freedom and access to art materials for self expression. So two years ago she came up with the idea and starting working toward building an organization where kids can come create freely. Today, that ideas has now morphed into, a crafting studio called Whimsikids.
A COMMUNITY WELCOME
Casey grew up in Monroe, North Carolina and came to Belmont to study social work in 2009.
Eight hours away, Casey first came to visit Nashville on a high school visit.
“It was Tennessee, and it was so far from home,” she said. “It was so weird, every one was smiling and saying hello. I was intimidated at first, but the all the college students were really kind.”
Casey and her mother went on a walking tour of the campus and by the end she looked at her mother and said, “This is where I need to be.“
“I think Nashville encourages creativity compared to other cities. I don’t know if that’s because of the city or because the parent’s are hipsters,” she said then laughed.
FLIGHT THEN FIGHT
The idea for Whimsikids started when Casey was finishing up at Belmont. She said initially she ran from it for selfish reasons.
“I wanted to travel and have a social life, and starting an organization at 21 wasn’t conducive to that,” she said. She said the idea of starting a business venture on her own intimated her. She said she realizes now that there were a few lessons she had to learn.
“It’s scary to chase a dream,” she said. “At that time, I don’t think I was fully ready.”
Casey said after that experience she took some time to mull over it on her front porch. At the time she was reading a book called Love Does by Bob Goff.
“In the book, Goff talks about whimsical situations and bringing whimsy everywhere you go. [He talks about] how to love people well and to go all out, that’s where the name came from,” she said.
Casey said because it was bothering, she had to do something about it.
“I was given a vision of a place for kids of all kinds to create regardless of their socio-economic status, race, gender, or ability level.”
WHIMSY TURNS TO PASSION
“I never thought I would be opening a kid crafting studio,” she said. She said everything that has happened in her life since she’s been in Nashville has led to Whimsikids, teaching her certain lessons along the way.
Casey told Neat Nashville what the studio would look like Night of Whimsy” for children and adults.
“When the kids arrival in the studio they will get to choose what they want to create,” she said. Once every quarter, Whimsikids will open their doors for low income children in the community for a free “Night of Whimsy”.
According to the website, Whimsikids.org, “It is just a night to allow these kids to actually be kids and escape the demands that are often put on their young lives. As soon as they step through the doors they will enter a whimsical environment where they are free to dream and tap into their unique creativity.”
Casey stated said she’s also excited about a room for parents where they can find community with other parents, decompress or for solitude.
“It’s not just a place where you come and drop off your kids,” she said. “I want this to be based around relationships. I want it to a community of people coming together.”
Casey said she is still in the beginning phases of the organization and recently finished fundraising.
She admitted she did not reach her goal of raising $10,000 for a site but said she’s glad. She said it gives her more of an opportunity to reach out to people in the community.
“Not raising the funds, have forced me out of my comfort zone,” she said. Lately, she’s been talking to people and inner city churches to gain the trust of the community and show people what Whimsikids is all about.
Casey said she wants to be mobile with Whimsikids this spring and summer then establish a location in the fall when the weather gets colder again.
“We’re created to live in community with other people,” she said also stating that she enjoys being an introvert and being alone from time to time. “But even if you’re an introvert you have to have community, it’s just healthy. I don’t believe man was made to live alone.”
TODAY AND FORWARD
In her free time, Casey loves to paint with acrylics, make crafts and most recently knit. Before coming to Belmont, Casey was a worship leader at her church and has sung much of her life.
Right now, Casey is a nanny for a family living in South Nashville. She said her experience as a nanny has been insightful in making decisions about Whimsikids.
“Nannying has taught me so much,” she said. “I still have no idea what it’s like to be a parent but nannying has given me a light into that world.”
Casey said for some parents it’s hard to find community.
“You take on this new world and if your friends don’t have kids then you’re in different seasons of life. I feel like when you have multiple kids it can be so much easier to stay home than to get out. Especially if you have a child with special needs.”
Casey would like to expand Whimsikids to other parts of Middle Tennessee. She wants Whimsikids to be a light in dark neighborhoods, to train up people in those communities and make them leaders.
She said she would love to see a mentorship program grow as well.
In the future, Casey said she wants to be in the community. “I don’t want this to be built on me or my name. We are Whimsikids, not just me. That’s something I’m trying to do from the very beginning.”
Thanks for reading Nashville.
Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we call neighbors.
It starts with community. It starts where you are.