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Healing Hearts – Part 1

April 4, 2012. By

Today, we had the honor of leading a healing arts workshop at a local school that has suffered great loss over the last few months. These 4th graders lost a fellow classmate and friend, Anthony (“Amps”) Strauss, and were also dealing with other unexpected difficulties, including a parent with cancer.

Anthony’s sister, Gloria, passed away four years earlier after a battle with cancer, and his lovely older sister, Maria – also a student at the school – spoke at Art with Heart’s Color of Hope Benefit Breakfast in 2010. Anthony had been a Cub Scout, played soccer and was on the wrestling team.

Their teacher had told the kids that we were coming to help them use art to help them express what was in their hearts, and they welcomed us with open arms. She told us that she doesn’t often have the opportunity to use art in the classroom, so when the kids saw the markers and other art supplies that we unloaded, they cheered. Maria joined us and shared with the younger students how Art with Heart had helped her when she was having a hard time through the book Magnificent Marvelous Me.

Art Therapist and Board Member, Helena Hillinga Haas, introduced the class to a special workbook we put together for the class which coaxes kids through various prompts about feelings. After they were invited to personalized their books with their names and dedicated the book to the person of their choice, Ms. Haas had the students turn to one particular page, which features the faces of 12 different animals, each with a different expression on their faces. The kids labeled what they thought each animal was feeling and began coloring.

I am always fascinated with how some markers and a little direction can engage even the squirmiest kids. All around the classroom, heads were down, and the students were engrossed in the project. Music helped focus them, and the children sang along with “Amp’s Tunes” that the teacher played. Some of the children (as well as the adults in the room) became teary-eyed as they colored.

Ms. Haas then asked the kids to chose one of the emotions that they themselves had felt recently and gave them modeling clay to create a three-dimensional object representing that feeling. As soon as the clay was out of the wrappers, they began to mold, shape, and even color it. The use of clay has been found to be therapeutic in and of itself and has the effect of physically reducing stress and anxiety, allowing the kids to manipulate and manage their feelings.

At the end of the session, Ms. Haas asked the students if anyone wanted to share their art with the class. Hands shot up everywhere. One child showed the clay snail he made and said, “This is a happy snail. He’s happy because good things happen – just like what’s happening today.” Another child shared the bluebird she  molded and said that her bird was happy because she had wings to fly above things. The student seated next to her said that he had made a bull and that it was angry. Another shared that she had created a confused cow. “Why do you think it’s confused?” Ms. Haas asked. “Because it doesn’t know how it feels…” Ms. Haas was able to guide the discussion to talk about how feelings are like that…sometimes you understand them and sometimes you don’t, and art helps us sort through it all.

One shy girl raised her hand and asked if she could read what she had written. She read aloud, “This Art with Heart organization helps people with their feelings – like [when] someone passes away (like Anthony…we miss him a whole lot). And that’s why Art with Heart came to our school and our classroom… Without Art with Heart, nobody would be this happy.”

Thank you to the teacher, the parents, and to our volunteers who helped make today’s workshop so meaningful and special. Thank you to Helena Hillinga Haas who led the workshop, Megan Beck who donated the printing of the books, Jill Beagles who assisted and kept everything moving smoothly, Maria who shared her experience with the class, and to Nancy Stillger who helped behind the scenes to bring together all the moving parts. But most especially, thank you to our donors who equip us with the ability to meet needs like this in the community.

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