Shortly after being rescued from an abusive home and placed into foster care with Arrow, Ken Keung was given two gifts that transformed his life—a safe place to call home, and a set of oil paints.
The paints, a Christmas gift from his new Arrow foster family, opened an outlet for him to express his feelings and communicate with those around him, which wasn’t always easy for the 16-year-old, who had recently come to the United States from China and wasn’t fluent in English.
But even with the language barrier, Ken’s foster parents recognized in him a gift for the fine arts, and wanted to encourage his talent.
“They provided a lot of help and were very patient with me, and they realized my potential,” Ken said. “After that, I couldn’t stop doing oil paintings.”
Ken’s first painting summed up his anxiety over the trauma his birth father put him through before moving in with his foster family. It was a mash-up of two famous paintings—Starry Night and The Scream.
“(My birth father) gave me a lot of really unpleasant experiences,” Ken said. “I didn’t really try to be social with people. I was reserved. At that time, my subjects were pretty dark. That first painting had lots of blues and lots of brush strokes, with this twisted figure in the middle.”
As Ken’s foster family helped him heal from those experiences, he transitioned into lighter subjects. Two years after entering foster care, he was placed with another Arrow foster family, but his new foster parents were just as supportive and encouraging of his art.
Soon, Ken began to think of art as more than a hobby. He kept in touch with Bethany Goodine, Arrow’s stewardship and communications coordinator and Ken’s former family ambassador specialist, who invited him to show some of his paintings at an event at her church.
One of the paintings Ken brought was a Father’s Day gift for his foster father, who loves Scottish culture. The painting is a landscape of a field with a Scottish castle. Ken didn’t intend to sell the painting, but a man who saw it at the event loved it so much that he offered Ken $1,000 to recreate one for him, which Ken did.
More recently, Ken used his painting skills to help Arrow. Last May, Ken sold four paintings at an auction and cocktail party that benefited Arrow’s Backpack Bash, an event which provides backpacks and school supplies to the foster and biological children of Arrow’s Houston-area foster parents. Ken’s paintings raised nearly $2,500 to go toward buying school supplies for the kids.
Ken, now 24, is studying art at Lone Star College with plans to move to Austin soon. His dream is to use his artistic know-how to restore old paintings for museums.
He said without the support of his Arrow foster parents and Bethany, he would not have had the same opportunities to grow as an artist.
“It’s not enough for me just to work hard myself,” Ken said. “My second foster family loves my paintings, and they encourage me so much. Right now they own four of my paintings in their house, and I will paint more because I feel like this is my home, and they treat me like a family member.”