AFH Alumni Stories
Edition 07— Handy Dorceus
“AFH is more like a home, it’s somewhere you go to be creative and try things.”
For someone like Handy Dorceus, Artists For Humanity was more an occasion of serendipity than it was something that he actually visualized in his life. Always more drawn to STEM fields, throughout his childhood he wanted to be an astronaut and his favorite TV channels were the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Handy was obsessed with space and black holes, which left him with a fascination for science, math and everything in between. This is why his introduction to AFH is a particularly unusual story.
“I’ll never forget this story,” he said, explaining how hanging out with a friend after school led to his first glimpse of AFH. “I didn’t have any plans so I said ‘I’ll just go to work with you and wait for you’. So I just went with him. I didn’t know anyone but they allowed me to stay in the 3D studio. I was just sitting there, I didn’t have homework to do or anything.”
They were making jewelry and it looked pretty cool so I asked ‘Do you mind if I help you? I just want to see what you guys are doing.’ Hannah Fallon [a mentor in the 3D Design Studio] allowed me to participate and after that, it was history.
Although Dorceus had no experience with art before finding AFH, he fell right in step with the 3D Design Studio and found a new passion for creativity. He credits a lot of his motivation to join the program to AFH’s welcoming ambiance.
“I think what made AFH attractive to me was the atmosphere. There wasn’t really any program like AFH at the time. There might be some today but it’s an atmosphere of people who are your age and it doesn’t feel like work, you know? You’re getting paid to make art, you’re getting paid to be creative, you’re getting paid to be yourself.”
‘Being himself’ meant several things for Dorceus during his time at AFH. It meant being creative but also working with his hands and continuing to discover a love for STEM-related fields. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) is one of AFH’s core values in merging experiential arts and STEM learning. In this sense, Dorceus embodies the STEAM aspect of AFH’s mission to diversify the interests, skills, and values of Boston teens. A moment that Dorceus remembers as one of his proudest is also one that, despite his initial nervousness, he’s shared with other AFH participants and supporters.
“I think it was my junior year of high school,” he said, remembering a project he was assigned to in his physics class that required him to create a mousetrap car. “That project consumed the entire rest of my junior year. I wanted my project to be awesome. I had AFH as a resource and outside of studio time, I asked my mentor Ben Durrell if he could help me build this car.
I would go to AFH and the woodshop. We just spent time building that car. Ben was with me the whole time and he showed me how to use all the tools, tools that I had never used before, and it was such a great experience.
When the project was due, my car actually went the farthest in the entire school. There was no car in the history of my teacher teaching that class that was as good as my car. It made me so happy and proud and that’s thanks to AFH, thanks to Ben, and thanks to the belief that they had in me.”
Dorceus’ experience with building the mousetrap car demonstrates the support AFH is able to give to students outside of the classroom. Be it academic, arts-related, or completely personal, support is something that is found in abundance at AFH.
Even upon leaving the program, Dorceus found parts of AFH’s impact and STEAM discipline, along with their continued support, reflected in his future ventures. Dorceus left AFH in 2016 to pursue an internship with a nanotechnology company in Cambridge.
“AFH was completely and fully supportive of it because they knew that I was STEM oriented and they knew that an opportunity like this would be really good for applying to colleges,” he said, speaking to how AFH’s dedication to both arts and sciences cultivated a future pathway for him that bridged both areas. “When I was at the interview for this job, all I talked about was AFH. I talked about how in the 3D Design Studio, in terms of creating blueprints for projects, there’s a lot of planning that goes ahead, patience, and skills using all types of machinery so I think that the skills I learned from AFH, like working as a team, being able to speak to clients, just having an overall confident atmosphere, and being comfortable in a new environment, all carried over. I feel without AFH and without the four years I spent there, I wouldn’t have had such a good experience at that job.”
Above all, Dorceus remembers how the faith that AFH had in him as he took a new venture extended to something bigger. This connection, as well as other relationships he fostered as a result of his time at AFH, resonate with Dorceus as he continues to pursue higher education and advance his career. The impact AFH makes on Dorceus’ community is something he compares to being a part of a family.
“Growing up in the Mattapan and Dorchester area, there’s not really a lot of opportunities to make the types of connections made through AFH and there’s not really anyone to talk to or anyone to go to to tell you how to do this or that. At AFH, aside from being a place to go to work, aside from being a place with family- a home, it was a place of networking. I met people; for example the mayor, a leader I wouldn’t have met anywhere else. They connected me with people. They had workshops to train you for interviews. It’s just a lot of valuable skills and training that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
Dorceus notes how this impact is more evident in hindsight. Having spent time apart from AFH as a participant, he sees the less quantifiable values he developed there as a person.
“It’s a different experience for everybody, but the experience is always more beneficial than doing something that is not like AFH. You’re getting paid to basically grow and develop as a person, but nobody’s going to say that to you and you’re not going to realize that until later on. But that’s exactly what it is. It’s more than a job. It’s really a place where you can find out who you are and prepare for the long term.”
This experience, something that he realizes he didn’t take note of while at AFH, is something he plans to carry with him and something he hopes to pass along in AFH’s sustainable model of returning alumni. Dorceus has returned to AFH this summer as an assistant mentor in the 3D design studio.
“Just enjoy everything that’s happening and stay focused,” he advised.
Dorceus is now a junior majoring in Computer Science at Tufts University.
This interview was conducted and written by Grace Yuh and Jane Elmets for Artists For Humanity.