Superpowers: we’ve all imagined having them and what we would do with an extraordinary skill. Would you fly? Choose to be invisible? Have exceptional strength? Time travel? The options are vast.

Ask 13-year-old Matthew what it’s like having superpowers.

Matthew draws “Cool Man”– an original cartoon character doing hero-like things. Cool Man has no limits, and he can do things Matthew cannot. His alter ego was invented in therapy after his parents divorced over five years ago. And these superpowers help him express his emotions through tough times.

With his creativity, it’s no surprise Matthew was drawn to take the seven week art course offered by United Way of Greater New Haven at Clinton Avenue School.

United Way brought this programming to the school through our partnership with New Haven Trauma Coalition. The class is taught by an instructor from Arts For Learning CT, where students are given the opportunity to learn through the arts by engaging in dance and music, storytelling and theatre, and digital and visual arts.

The students work on Chromebook laptops and are taught by local New Haven artist Jennifer Rae Cherrington, one of the teaching artists from Arts For Learning. She asks students to choose between making a movie trailer about themselves or an animated character, and helps them through the creative design process. Matthew brought his Cool Man sketch to life as a computer animated character.

“The kids already have a natural ability and language to work with these programs,” said Cherrington.

The hands-on experience gives them exposure to high end computer software programs, like Adobe, that aren’t typically offered until high school.

“My favorite thing is seeing that the kids connect with something that [can] be a career for them in the future, something they like doing.”

Matthew’s mother, Dominique, says the class is well suited for him with his love of drawing and artistic side. She is also encouraged that United Way is bringing trauma-informed programs to Matthew’s classroom and school, helping him, but also teaching all of his classmates the importance of recognizing and dealing with difficult emotions. And she firmly believes having an avenue for expression is important.

“Everybody has something that they are good at, but not always the opportunity or instrument to demonstrate that. But [it’s important] to have a creative outlet,” said Dominique. “There are many things you learn through music, through art, through dancing that you can’t get just from a book.”

For Dominique, she couldn’t be more proud that her son is flourishing both creatively and academically. The youngest of five children, Matthew has defied the odds. Born a micro-preemie at 1 lb 7 ounces, Matthew has not only overcome physical limitations, but emotional challenges as well.

From kidney issues and renal failure, to eye surgeries, to his parent’s difficult divorce, you wouldn’t know what Matthew has gone through by simply looking at him. He’s a typical seventh grader with a love for drawing, penmanship, basketball, and reading.

But what’s special about him is his strength and ability to bounce back. And what he doesn’t know yet is that this skill far surpasses any fictional character or superhero’s powers.

“My favorite thing is seeing that the kids connect with something that [can] be a career for them in the future, something they like doing.”