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Renaissance Village Art Therapy Trip #3 – February 2006

By Karla Leopold LMFT, ATR, Fine Artist

This is a brief report on the third trip funded by Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation to the Renaissance Village, in Baker, Louisiana on March 1, 2006. The Renaissance Village is a six hundred-trailer facility outside of Baton Rouge housing approximately two thousand Katrina refugees, including five hundred children. The group this time consisted of five art therapists, a high school teacher from New York, and a recent Art Center graduate.

Our main goal was to assist the families with the mental health issues associated with trauma and loss. This was the most productive but hardest trip yet. The hardest part of our journey was to see the degree of frustration, sense of abandonment and loss of hope suffered by these people.

With the help from the Foundation, the children were able to decorate two floats for Mardi Gras week. They celebrated their own Mardi Gras with a barbeque, music, king cakes, and a parade with beads and candy. This was a difficult time for many of the displaced people so it was important to recreate a portion of their traditions. Later in the week a young boy about five pulled on my sleeve and asked: “Don’t you remember me?” The look in my eyes must have told him I really didn’t remember his beautiful face so he proceeded to say: “I was the ONE, the ONE on the float! I was throwing the beads and candy!” We were able to create an experience for this young boy to feel like he was the one for the special day.

Another great part of this trip was the continued use of the cameras with the adolescents. We were able to supply the children with Kodak digital cameras, developers and supplies. This was made possible by funds raised by the New York teacher’s students and the Foundation. The photos taken by the kids are outstanding and will be used in the art show, Katrina Through the Eyes of Children. They traveled outside the trailer facility into their new community of Baton Rouge to take photos. They also took photos inside the River Center, the convention center that served as a shelter for many of these children for over a month.

We also spent time in a recording studio making two young boys’ dreams come true. They created rap songs singing about the difficult move from New Orleans and their anger and loss. We will use the music with the video they created in the show Katrina Through the Eyes of Children.

Much of our time was spent using art therapy to help the families work through the pain associated with the crisis, adjust to the new environment, build new relationships within the community, and retell their stories. This trip was the most difficult because now, due to our repeated visits, the children become more trusting, confiding in us more than in the past. The stories that they tell in the art are sometimes difficult to hear. They are deeper with more details. This is an important part of their recovery process but sometimes very painful.

The degree of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and mental illness continues to be a major problem. A team of case workers are working hard to deal with daily needs but there are no longer groups of trained professionals dealing with serious mental health issues on site. We are working with different sources including the National Mental Health Institute to create a continued mental health program for this population including art therapy. Art therapy has become an important tool in the lives of many of these families.

A return trip by the art therapists and crew during the children’s spring break in April is planned. A trip is also planned to visit New Orleans, where the adolescents will have the opportunity to tell their story through the camera acting as photojournalists. Two professional photojournalists and some well-known celebrities will be accompanying us on this trip.

We are in the process of creating and raising funds to support the art show Katrina Through The Eyes of Children, which will tell the story of Katrina through the art of its youngest survivors. The show will open in Baton Rouge and travel nationally to include other cities, some with large populations of evacuees. A proposal, objectives, and detailed plan for the show are available by request. Any help or contacts would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to become more involved, you can assist us with any of the following:

  • Financial support is needed for the art show, Katrina Through the Eyes of Children. We are looking for individual and corporate sponsors. This can be done through the Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation. Please contact me for details.
  • Financial support to Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation, Project Katrina, earmarked for art therapy, is needed. This can be done through the web at www.forallkids.org.
  • Art supplies are needed. There is never enough colored paper, drawing paper, watercolor paint sets, thick yarn, big knitting and crocheting needles, platiscene clay, model magic, bound journals, large marking pens, colored pipe cleaners, small pieces of wood, stamps, rhinestones and anything else that creates art.
  • Photo books for the photographs are needed. Unfortunately the ones we purchased and decorated on the last trip are missing. We have 25-30 kids participating and hope to add an adult photo class. These people have lost all their photos from the past.
  • Two talented young artists are being generously sponsored to attend Idyllwild Arts Academy for summer session. There are two other students that deserve to also attend. This can be done through Jolynn Reid, jreid@idyllwildarts.org.
  • Continue your prayers and thoughts for these people. As one mother said, “So many of us feel abandoned, and just knowing that others think about us helps.”
With your support, we can continue to provide much needed assistance to Katrina survivors. I know we are making a difference in the lives of many of these children.

 

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