The office walls are papered with the faces of children. Some are happy, some sad. Every one of them, however, has been touched in some way by trauma.
Therapists from Seattle’s “Art With Heart” help children deal with issues no one should ever have to go through.
“We see everything from gang members to foster kids and abuse,” said founder Steffanie Lorig.
In October, Lorig and a team of therapists were called to help the children of Newtown, Connecticut.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said therapist Helena Hillinga Haas. “I just knew I had to be strong for the kids.
They went in October because they knew the one year observance of the horrific massacre that claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School was coming. They didn’t meet with Sandy Hook survivors since so much attention was already being given to them. Instead, they tended to the town’s teenagers—often overlooked, but still struggling in the shooting’s aftermath.
“The fact that one of their own, a teenager, did this horrific thing—a lot of them knew him. So, that’s a lot of burden to bear,” said Lorig.
Therapists gave kids paper, pencils and scissors - a tool kit to start repairing their broken hearts.
“It’s a less threatening way to tap into those feelings or emotions that they might not be aware they have, said Hillinga Haas. “Sometimes they just feel overwhelmed.”
The kids produced powerful images. Two of the pieces portrayed masked men with rifles, on the hunt. By the end of the week-long trip, though, there were also smiles. One boy created a collage of green trees and renewal.
“We saw amazing transformations in the short time we were there,” said Hillinga Haas. “There were children who didn’t realize all of this was inside of them until they were able to creatively get those feelings and thoughts out.”
The team trained 23 adults to continue the work in their absence, and there is much more work to be done. The pain for the Newtown teens has been compounded by the recent deaths of one teen to suicide and other to cancer. There is so much sadness, but so many who care.
“The good thing is, people come together,” said Lorig. “If there is compassion there is love, and if there is love there is hope."
You can find out more about the organization by visiting www.artwithheart.org.