By Megan Willman

The walls of my home are filled with priceless treasures made by my favorite artists: my sons, my mother-in-law, and my friends. And, a new piece has found a prominent spot in our living room. It’s a bright and colorful cityscape created by one of the kids at Open Door Youth Services in New Albany. Open Door has served our community for more than 30 years providing residential, prevention, and outreach programs for vulnerable young people who need help with positive development.

The children at Open Door might have been removed from their homes for a variety of reasons: perhaps parents can’t take care of them due to financial issues or addiction, or perhaps the kids have dependency or behavioral issues that have led to them living in the shelter. Some of the children are working to improve to get back home, while others are hoping to find foster care.

Kalenn, one of the residents, helped open the “Open Door Youth” Etsy store. 

Art therapy is one of the most effective programs at Open Door because it allows the kids a powerful outlet to express their feelings, experiences, and creativity. Not only does their amazing artwork adorn the walls of Open Door, but the community now has the opportunity to purchase pieces from the “Open Door Youth” Etsy store.

In November 2015, Open Door paired with the Ignite Leadership Louisville Trans4mance team that assisted in the development of the Etsy business plan. They worked with a young resident named Kalenn, who will manage the store, and enrolled her into an Etsy Entrepreneur Program. The Etsy store offers the kids an opportunity to experience running a business while also generating funds for critical Open Door programming.

(Front row L-R) Volunteers from the Ignite Leadership Louisville Trnas4mance team: Elizabeth Walker, Kaci Grant, Leah Pezzarossi, Allison Johnston, Samuel Walker, Clay Hunt, Chris Graff, Sarag Antle, Natalie Heller, and Tianna Barnes-Palmer.

Tianna Barnes-Palmer, a member of the Ignite Team, says, “The children’s art is beautiful. You truly must see it in person and converse with the kids to see how passionate they are about their art. The kids have a deep emotional story behind their work.”

Leah Pezzarossi has been the executive director of Open Door Youth Services for 12 years. During her tenure, she has seen the facility expand, add programs, and move buildings. “I want people to know our kids are smart, creative, and worthy of all the opportunities any other kids have,” she says. “We have come a long way as an organization, but taking care of our kids and helping them to strive to be the best they can be always has and always will be the most important part of our job.”

The staff focuses on helping kids identify their strengths and excel in whatever they choose to do. 

Allie Johnston, community liaison at Open Door, shares some ways community members can support the programs and young people who live there. “It takes a village to raise a child, and we are a small village,” Allie says. “When volunteers come in from the community, it makes a great difference to our kids. Volunteers bring a fresh face, a listening ear, and a friendship that mean so much.”

Teen Court volunteers 

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Donate clothes, shoes, and outerwear in all sizes. The youth at Open Door range from ages 6-21, males and females. Have a little extra time? Help to organize the clothes closet.
  • Work with kids in the garden.
  • Come talk to the youth about your hobbies, a sport you enjoy, or about your career.
  • Donate food. Open Door gets plenty of bread and sweet treats for the kids but always needs donations of meat, cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Drop off “generic” gifts that can be used for birthday or holiday presents.
  • Volunteer as a tutor, particularly for upper level math and science.
  • Stop by for a game of basketball or to lead an activity.
  • Serve as a chaperone for one of the many Open Door programs.
  • Make a monetary donation. All donations go directly to benefit the youth. You can give securely through or send a check to 2524 Corydon Pike, Suite 108, New Albany, IN 47150.

The easiest ways to keep up with Open Door’s needs are to go to the website and sign up for their monthly newsletter and to like their Facebook page.

Charlie Kundysek is participating in their New Directions program.