Jill Biden Spotlights Military Kids' Art in East Wing Exhibit: Students Share Stories Behind Their Pieces

"Art has always been a really important form of therapy and expression," Rory Brosius, an adviser to the first lady, tells PEOPLE

Jill Biden

Dr. Jill Biden is opening up the White House for a very personal new art series.

In an exhibit spearheaded by the first lady's military family support initiative, Joining Forces, in honor the Month of the Military Child, the White House is displaying a variety of pieces created by military kids.

The artwork went on display on April 22 and will stay up until the end of the month.

The first lady's office says the 20-plus pieces, organized by the nonprofits Military Child Education Coalition and Kids Rank, have been added to the tour route through the East Wing.

"You see these really powerful experiences of what it means to be a military-connected kid, and they're from all around the world," says Rory Brosius, the executive director of Joining Forces.

"We wanted to work with our partners in this space to highlight some of the artwork that ... processes and demonstrates what their life is like," Brosius tells PEOPLE, adding, "This gives the military kids a platform to express their experience and connect with their peers, and art has always been a really important form of therapy and expression."

Supporting military families has long been a cause close to the first lady's heart, as she is quick to note. And the White House says there are many who need the attention: There are more than 4 million children who have a parent actively serving in a branch of the military. (Biden's late stepson, Beau, was a National Guardsman.)

The diverse pieces in the new exhibit in the East Wing lobby highlight children growing up with parents across the different branches of the military, from the Coast Guard to the Marines.

Life for military families has unique uncertainties, with children moving an average of six to nine times during their K-12 education, according to the first lady's office.

The new exhibit works to highlight the individual kids behind these numbers. In addition to their works, the young artists were invited to include a quote about what their piece represents or meant to them.

Madilyne, a North Carolina eighth-grader and daughter of a Marine, said her poem "I Remember" spoke to the feeling of being thrown into brand new places.

White House Military Kid Art
Courtesy White House

"I created this work because I remember how I felt when I first moved to my previous home in Okinawa," she said. "I think that this may be how many military children feel when moving somewhere new. What inspired me was when my attitude towards moving changed."

A portrait of a uniformed father and daughter leaning their heads on each other's shoulders submitted by Jacqueline, an eighth-grader from Virginia, was inspired by her memories of her father's time in the Navy, according to the artist.

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White House Military Kid Art
Courtesy White House

"I have the boat leaving as the father is watching the sunset with his daughter," Jacqueline said.

Twelfth-grader Elizabeth, a Puerto Rico native whose father serves in the Army, chose to honor veterans with her creative interpretation of an eagle drawn in different words.

White House Military Kid Art
Courtesy White House

"Inside the eagle, I put words that describe Army veterans and what they stand for," she said of her piece, which includes words like "vigilant," "loved," "honorable" and "unafraid."

Emily, an eighth-grader in Puerto Rico, chose to create a work incorporating a helicopter, an aircraft with which her Coast Guard dad works regularly.

White House Military Kid Art
Courtesy White House

"So, I decided to draw a Coast Guard helicopter with a daughter saying goodbye to her dad," Emily shared of her inspiration.

Biden, who also championed military families while she was second lady, revived and expanded that effort after her husband took office as president last year.

Brosius, the Joining Forces executive director, tells PEOPLE the three policy priorities of their work are military child education; health and well-being; and military spouse opportunity.

The first lady has been on a listening tour to both center the experience of families who need support and to highlight programs that help them, such as a peer-to-peer program in schools for the children of service-members.

"There are a lot of opportunities to reach out to these families and include them," Brosius says.

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In an essay for Parents earlier this month, the first lady called the "grit and resilience" of military families and veterans' caregivers "unparalleled."

"Military kids don't wear a uniform, so most of the time their peers and teachers have no idea what they are going through," she wrote.

She also recalled her own experience in a military family, watching Beau's wife, Natalie, and his brother, Hunter, struggle with his absence while he was serving in the National Guard before his death.

"When Beau was deployed, we had the chance to meet other military moms or dads, people who had been in the same position," the first lady wrote in her essay. "It was like medicine for our hearts. They prayed with us and shared stories with us. They sent notes of hope and encouragement."

"We saw how much love, generosity, and kindness was in the military community, and we've felt grateful to be a part of it every day since," she continued, urging readers to take their own initiative. "It shouldn't take knowing this experience firsthand to want to help."

* Reporting by ADAM CARLSON

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