Renaissance Village Art Therapy Trip #2 – December 2005
By Karla Leopold LMFT, ATR, Fine Artist
This is a brief report on the latest visit funded by Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation to the Katrina survivors living in Baton Rouge at the Groom Road trailer city.
Our trip to Louisiana was difficult but constructive. There was a team of four art therapists working from December 9, 2005 to December 16, 2005. The conditions in which we worked were terrible. Once again we conducted our work in the main meeting structure which is a tent without lights and heat. We were able to find portable heaters and Christmas lights for the last few days.
The good news is that many of our families and children from the former trip were happy to work with us. Our tables were filled with as many as forty kids each day and much art was created.
Many organizations sent toys and gifts. One day, five semi-trucks came with stuff but sadly the people have no room for stuff in their tiny camping trailers. The shipments did yield many cardboard boxes which the children found very useful. They used them to create their own city out of the cardboard. We had a cardboard town including a mayor's office, school, church, and homes filling most of the tent. One six year-old made sure we had a graveyard to bury the pets and lost relatives. Representatives from the Louisiana State Department came to visit that day and were impressed with the city. Unfortunately a major storm hit the area and when we returned the next morning, the rain had destroyed most of the cardboard city, much like Katrina had destroyed their real city before. This time with our guidance they were able to process feelings, evaluate the damage and be empowered to recreate a plan for the future.
The representatives from the State Department were impressed with the children's work and offered to provide a safe place to recreate their city and display the art at the State Museum. I will be meeting with them later this month.
We were able to engage the teenagers this trip by supplying them with cameras. Unfortunately the cameras were poor quality, but when they did work the kids took some amazing pictures about their lives. We are looking for a source to supply some better cameras and developers for the next trip.
We did spend time this trip working as therapists with many of the adults suffering from the stress and realities of their losses and frustrations. There are many people suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress and other mental illnesses. The social services provided to them are extremely limited, and there are few services available for the children. Preschool was discontinued in the trailer city because it became too cold and wet inside the tent. The trailers provided by Rosie's Foundation for day care and preschool are sitting outside the trailer city and have been sitting there over a month due to inexplicable complications. The teenagers have nothing to occupy their time but one basketball court, and many do not attend school.
With the generous support of Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation and the guidance of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation angel, Sister Judith Brun, we have been able to provide the Katrina survivors with continued and consistent mental health care. Art Therapy has become an important tool in the lives of many of these children, families and adults.
A return trip by a team of art therapists is planned for the month of February. We have had other professionals interested in joining us in the future. These include a group of music therapists and teachers specializing in at risk kids. The Rand Corporation has also expressed an interest in our work.
All your support and prayers are appreciated. This is a population that is in great need of hope, empowerment and a future. It has been an honor and privilege to work with the Katrina survivors. I believe that in some small way we are making these goals more of a reality.