Bring healing art to children in medical crisis

Jul 16, 2014

CHAP Teacher Feature!

Mary spreading joy!
Mary spreading joy!

Children's Healing Art Project is pleased to present a new monthly feature showcasing our hospital art teachers!  Mary Milly Doyle has been a teacher at CHAP for over 8 years and is the first to be honored in this month's "Teacher Feature."  Mary shares her own personal CHAP journey and the lessons she has learned from the children she works with at the hospital.

Can you share your history with CHAP? In 2007 I was teaching workshops out of my home studio, when I decided I wanted to connect with a group of some sort and reach a needier population.  At the top of my list was Doernbecher Children's Hospital (DCH), as my family had all become aware of a world not known to us before our son had two open heart surgeries before his second birthday. We were the lucky ones, walking OUT of the hospital in record time with successful surgeries and no complications. My son is happily nineteen now and goes for yearly check ups and will probably need a heart transplant at some point, but we thank God, that point is not today.

However, many families are not so lucky and their extended stays in hospitals are emotionally and physically draining in a sterile and foreign world. I had hoped I could bring art into the hospital in some way, but had no idea how or who to connect with. That's when I learned that the "art guy" that had been coming up to DCH needed help. I called and he asked if I could come that day. Mr. Etxaniz, blue haired and in painted clothes, came to collect me and take me up to the oncology floor. I spent one afternoon with the children, and that was that.  I have been happily teaching with CHAP since.

I watched us grow from two teachers and one office person to where we are now: leading over 60 hours of art experiences weekly. There have been many ups and downs, worries and relief, joys and terrible sorrows, but through it all there has been laughter and hope and belief in this vision and this need for artists bringing the healing power of art to these lovely and grateful children. I have always held on because of the strength of these magic connections.

What have you learned from making art with critically ill children?  Working with the population at the hospitals has humbled me and also taught me to let go of many of the details that slow me down. CHAP's founder, Frank, always encouraged us to abandon the rules and create our own. Watching these kids and adults with tubes and poles and pain and drugs under their belts, tuck in to tiny chairs, under tables that are flat and too low, STILL create beautiful work without any excuse about perfect conditions or proper papers or brushes or light, is a gift and a brilliant lesson. In the little time they might get between transfusions or chemo or whatever procedure or bout of nausea is up next, they create with joy and concentration and a sweet peace and appreciation for their escape into the bliss and freedom of light and color.  If I could maintain that attitude in my own work, I would be satisfied that I was giving the best I could give to the world.

In 2013, CHAP grew significantly, providing over 7,000 healing arts experiences to children and their families dealing with critical and chronic illnesses and disabilities.  CHAP's mobile team of teaching artists bring creative, engaging art projects directly to hospital bedsides, playrooms and waiting rooms each week.

Signing up for CHAP's Monthly Giving Program TODAY supports CHAP in the continuation of what we do best - sharing the Healing Power of Art with children and families!

Mary and CHAP Artists having fun!
Mary and CHAP Artists having fun!
Mary and a happy CHAP Artist!
Mary and a happy CHAP Artist!
Jun 19, 2014


Artist with feeding tube
Artist with feeding tube

She is usually sprite and upbeat, but on this day, that energy was not there. She sits down at the table and confides in us that she threw up her feeding tube yesterday and it was replaced with one that goes in her nose. She hates it and states, “It feels like you are gagging on something all the time.” She’s so sad and the heaviness is palpable.

Reluctantly, the girl, despite her discomfort, starts making a beaded keychain for her mother. A nurse checks the patient’s IV and gently says, “You’re doing a good job. I know you don’t like the feeding tube, but you need the nutrition. It’s just what we need to do at this point in your treatment. Let’s just make the best of it.”

For a moment, we all just sit around with huge, sad eyes. And then it occurs to me, “You know, this might call for some paint throwing. If you’re feeling a little angry about this feeding tube, do you want to get some of that anger out?” The girl eagerly responds, “Yes, I want to get angry.”

Her therapist overhears the little girl and offers to get a feeding tube that she has for the purpose of ‘medical play.’

We set up a huge ‘tarp’ of white bed sheets taped to the Playroom floor. A CHAP art teacher selects one long white scarf and one toddler T-shirt (for the patient’s younger sibling). No sooner are the two pieces placed on the backdrop does the little girl have her paintbrush in the purple fabric paint and starts whipping the brush around. The flexible feeding tube is laid right on the tarp and it is ready for a beating. One of CHAP’s art teachers hands her a huge bottle of acrylic paint to pummel the tube with. It gets squirted with fabric paint.

Our artist is standing up and smiling now. She asks us to go get her mom so she can see what she is up to. Our artist sits down on the tarp and paints her feet and hands. We just keep asking her what color she wants next . She paints everything within reach.

It’s magic. The whole tenor of the afternoon shifted.

Paint is dripped, thrown, squirted and splattered. At one point, the 10-year old comments that her stomach hurts, but she keeps on working. I don’t know how long this session lasted, but it seemed like a long time.

When the flurry comes to an end, I gently wash the girl’s feet in a green hospital-issued basin. We start to clean up. The paint has leaked through the sheets and the floor is undeniably a mess. The little girl offers to help us clean up. We both exclaim, “No!” as we spend the next 30 minutes on our hands & knees wiping up the floor and adjacent surfaces.

The young artist wants the bed sheet, too, so we tape it up on the wall to dry. The feeding tube is lost in the chaos of colorful paint. I help carry the T-shirt down to the patient’s room. I place it on the windowsill and I say to the girl before I exit the room, “I will remember this day forever.”

Later when we are ready to leave the floor, the nurse says to us ,“Wow. That was amazing. Thank you. We all saw it happen. We saw the story change right in front of our eyes.”


Mar 21, 2014

"Thank you for the inspiration and all that you do to bless our children"

Children's Healing Art Project (CHAP)

A huge THANK YOU to our donors for bringing the healing power of art to children and families! As one grateful mother expressed, “After experiencing CHAP at [the hospital], we went to the art studio several times. We were inspired to create our own sequin-covered tray, a gift for my husband from [his children]. They used their handprints and filled in around them. The accompanying photo is the result, a one-of-a-kind serving tray. Thank you for the inspiration and all you do to bless our children.”

In 2013, CHAP (Children’s Healing Art Project) provided 8,500 unique art experiences, a 30% increase over 2012. We are grateful for your support as it provides art experiences and supplies to children and families dealing with disease, disability or loss. CHAP’s teaching artists, along with volunteers, lead art adventures in hospitals, studio ‘Art Clubs’ and in outreach opportunities. Known for our sequins, glitter and paint, CHAP provides a creative space for an individual to express oneself without the limitation of a diagnosis or disability.

For those of you who live in the Portland, Oregon area, please join us for a Night of Healing Art on Friday, March 28, Tiny’s MLK Coffee (2031 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd) from 6-8 pm.  The CHAP-art will be displayed for the month of March and is for sale.  CHAP will provide an art activity for all who attend the closing reception. 

Dec 20, 2013

"Hey! You don't have any arms!"

One sunny fall afternoon in Art Club sat two girls both unaware of the others’ physical challenge with their only concern being what color glitter should be used next.  We will call them Sally and Sam.
The youngest of the two, Sally, was 4 ½ years old and her first time to Art Club, while Sam, a preteen, had been coming to CHAP for years.  Sally maneuvered as best as she could with one working hand, as the other was unusable since birth. 
The two had worked side-by-side for quite a while when Sally asked Sam to hand her some glitter glue that was too far for her to reach.  Sam said, “Sure” and quickly whipped her leg across the table, grabbing the glue with her toes and brought it back to the little one whose eyes were bigger than pancakes, for she had never seen something so magnificent.  Sally yelped, “Hey! You don’t have any arms!”  Sam responded with a smile and replied, “if you think that is cool, do you want some snacks?”
Without hesitation, the two of them sprang up to the counter full of snacks that was too tall for Sally to reach.  Once again, Sam shows her new friend how life is when you don’t have any arms.  She removed her shoe and gracefully picked up a plate, sat it down, loaded it with snacks of Sally’s choosing and delivered it to her place at the table.  Then Sam filled her plate and the two sat down and shared some snacks together.
Without a doubt, Sally left empowered that day.  Full of new possibilities of being in a world where she was not different.  CHAP, and her new friend Sam, helped her find the freedom to be expressed and accepted as the wonderful and capable young lady that she is!


Sep 20, 2013

You can't judge a book by it's cover.

Beautiful beaded necklace
Beautiful beaded necklace

For the past year, CHAP has been working with the Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) oncology program at Knight Cancer Institute.  The AYA patients are between the ages of 15 - 39.  

The coordinator mentioned that a young man and his mother were both struggling with a recent diagnosis.  I went to that patient's door and introduced myself. He was alone. As I do with all patients, I listed the range of options I could bring to his bedside: watercolors, coloring mandalas, clay or jewelry-making. I could tell by his body language that he was going to accept something. He was on Day 6 of his stay. I think he was ready for some diversion.
Within a minute, he requested some beads. "I'll make something for my sister." Then he quickly followed with, "I should make something for my mom, too. Can I make 2 necklaces?" I gave him a resounding "Yes!" and scurried upstairs to gather the supplies.
He selected violet beads for his mom and green beads for his sister.  He told me their first names so he could customize the pieces with alphabet letter beads. When I came back to his room, he was sitting up and ready to work. I asked him if he had done any beading in recent years. He said, "Not since I was a kid." With the first necklace, he let me do the layout of the beads and he threaded them onto the string. By the second piece, he was in the driver's seat. He did the entire layout, with impressive attention to symmetry. We chatted a little bit and at other moments it was quiet. He mentioned at 2 different points that he was in excruciating back pain - but he never winced or groaned. He said it very matter-of-factly and then went back to the business at hand. For his third piece, he made himself a keychain.

By this point, we had been working together for well over an hour. A connection had been formed. He said to me, "Did you think I would say no?" Meaning - did I think he'd reject the opportunity to make art? I kind of chuckled. I said to him, "In the 4 1/2 years I have been doing this job with CHAP, I've learned to not make assumptions. You can't judge a book by its cover." I see this over & over again. The most rugged-looking cowboy from central Oregon will sit in the hospital and make beautiful beaded bracelets for his wife back at home. It's always a pleasure to see.  I've stopped being surprised.
There was one person in his life he still wanted to make something for - his aunt. Well, not technically his aunt, but rather a close family friend. She had been helping out with his hospitalization. She seemed an important player in his care-giving. I said, "Of course, you can make something for her. It sounds like she has been a great support to you." This woman recently had to return home, which was out-of-state. He said he would send it to her. He decided on red and clear crystal beads for his aunt and we put her name on it, too. He said that she was a source of steadiness, whereas his own mother was still reeling from the diagnosis. The aunt was both comfortable in the hospital setting and in her role advocating for him. She was calm and ready to do what needed to be done. She had that "one day at a time" attitude that CHAP hears so much about at the hospital. He appreciated this. He was clearly grateful to be buoyed up by his honorary aunt.
Towards the end of my shift, I went back to the patient's room to see if he had finished his final piece. Guess who was in the room? His mom and his sister - and they greeted me wearing their new necklaces. They were cheerful and delighted to receive their gifts. The mom was interested to hear about our AYA Bedside Art program. The patient was quiet now that his family was there. But I know he enjoyed it. I know he was glad he had said - 'Yes'.

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Project Leader

Roxie McGovern

Portland, OR United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Bring healing art to children in medical crisis