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Renaissance Village Art Therapy Trip #8– August 2007
By Karla Leopold LMFT, ATR, Fine Artist

As I began writing about the 8th art therapy trip, I was thinking it was one of the hardest trips yet. I re-read the past trip reports and realized all the trips have been extremely difficult.

The dusty, bleak, dirty, conditions with temperatures of over one hundred made working outside with a plastic roof as our shelter, difficult. 

The residents at Renaissance Village were restless and bored as the long hot summer came to an end. People were being moved out again, some evicted, others moving on with no plan. 

This made people feel scared and uncertain about their future. Most were frustrated and depressed by the slow recovery rate, lack of help and limited resources.

Some of the families are moving, others are being evicted with short notice with no where to go. Sister Judith is busy seeking housing, supplies and jobs to help ease their transition.

Trailers are being towed immediately from the park as soon as they are empty. These moves are so sudden and random. It makes it difficult for the residents and others to do any follow up or put closure on their relationships.

 
 
 

A young teenage girl with whom we have worked closely with refused to come into the tent to work. She walked around us with a sullen expression. When we finally spoke with her, she stated, “There is no way I want to get close with anyone any more because everyone just leaves and no one cares.”

She would be moving to New Orleans soon as her mother had found a job and housing with relatives.

Another one of the families that usually works with us was evicted and their story continues.  This family of eight was living in one of the small camper trailers. The family includes three teenagers, two primary school age girls and a toddler. One of the teenage boys is an extremely talented artist. He created one of my favorite sculptures in our large collection. When housing wasn’t available for the whole family, the teenagers were moved to a homeless shelter and the mother and the girls moved to a small hotel room. The oldest girl attempted suicide and was hospitalized in a facility far from the family. Due to the distance and lack of transportation, no one was able to visit her. Currently the mother is working at a new job and housing has become available. The housing is in a very crime ridden part of town.  The mother is very concerned for their safety and future in this dangerous environment. It is difficult to raise children with temptation so near the front door. She has very limited choices as how to move on with their lives.

Like so many of these children, they will be entering a new school. There is a direct correlation with student drop outs and multiple school transfers, especially when dealing with teenagers. The main focus of this trip was to help the children transition back to school as the truancy rate at Renaissance Village continues to be high. These statistics reinforce our need for a Children’s Trauma Institute to provide treatment and support for these children. The art therapy team brought books and art therapy activities to help the children focus and settle into a structured school type environment.

 
A talented photography teacher and one of her star pupils from Dallas joined us to teach the teenagers techniques and processes using cameras. The teens learned to take photos from a birds eye view, snap photos in motion, create portraits, etc.
The photographs the teenagers took were outstanding.

They were very proud of their work. The teachers also took wonderful photos of the all the children. There were many smiles as they viewed themselves in photos taken by professionals. They all looked so very beautiful!
 
   
   

We continued the assessment process using art therapy to identify children and families needing referrals for sustained mental health treatment.  We are able to refer the identified families and children to the mental health Blue Bus sponsored by Louisiana State University and staffed with talented mental health workers. The Blue Bus works with the children at the schools and at Renaissance Village. We are in the process of forming a partnership with the Blue Bus to provide an art therapist to join the team. The funding for the art therapist will come from Community Initiatives Foundation (CIF).

Children, especially teenagers, act out depression with aggressive, danger seeking behavior.  Many of the teenagers were displaying this behavior.  There was more than usual amount of fighting, hitting, destruction of property and stealing.  It has been difficult to engage several of the teenagers we had worked with us in the past. There was one teenage boy that continued to act out.  I decided to focus my attention on him and was determined to engage him in a drawing. When I finally was able to have him create a drawing I was somewhat surprised at the degree of depression and PTSD it indicated. He drew a regressed, simplistic, lone triangle house. To most, this young man looks like an angry young hoodlum. Underneath all this negative behavior is a hurting, angry, depressed young boy acting out his mental state.

Along with using art therapy with the children, the team also helped with the process of registration for school, which many of the families needed help with. After the opening of school, several children were still not attending. One young boy was attending the art therapy in the tent wearing green, fluffy slippers. We thought he was wearing them because he liked them. It hadn’t occurred to us that he didn’t have shoes. He, like several other children, did not have proper shoes to attend school.  The district provides uniforms for the students but many of the families needed shoes, belts, under wear and school supplies in order for the children to attend school. We were able to provide for these needs.
   
   

Community Initiatives Foundation provides the funding and support for our art therapy work. CIF provides direct service for the displaced families. Sister Judith Brun, the founder of CIF, is the advocate for the families and provides for them daily.

She attends meetings, makes phone calls, answers their phone calls at all hours, provides food, shelter and  the continued sustain care these families so desperately need. Without her support and insight our work would not be possible. 

 
   


Katrina Through the Eyes of Children, the mixed media art exhibit created by these children becomes more important with every visit. This story must be told!

 

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