Bring healing art to children in medical crisis

 
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We (Children's Healing Art Project) have recently expanded our programs to serve the AYA population.  AYA is an acronym for ‘Adolescent and Young Adult’.  This program started on August 29, 2012.  The program offers one-on-one art for patients with assorted cancer diagnoses. 

I will share with you one tale from AYA.  On November 1st I was asked by the AYA Program Coordinator to check on a particular patient.  I will refer to him as Som.  I walked into his room.  Som was propped up in bed and had a tremendous amount of sutures in his scalp.  Most notably, he was missing part of his skull.  This was obvious because his scalp was sunken in this area.  The divet in his head must have been 5” in diameter.  After a brief moment of taking all that in, I introduced myself and asked the gentleman if he would like to make some art today.  It was extremely hard for Som to speak.  One of our initial exchanges was very belabored.  It took him quite a few tries to get the works out.  In the end, he was asking me to turn the light off in his bathroom.  Ah!  We had communicated.  I turned the light off for him.  As we spoke, he would at times get words out successfully and other times the words were indecipherable.  I sat with him and said, “Take your time.  Go easy on yourself.  You have been through a lot.  Be gentle with yourself.”  At one moment of intense frustration, he leaned his head back on his pillow and if to say, “It’s too hard to talk!”  He started to cry a little bit & I gave him a couple tissues.  Som did accept my invitation to do some jewelry making.  His hands were too shaky to thread the beads onto the string.  I said, “Don’t worry.  I can do it for you.”  So I would add a few beads and hold it up for him.  He would review my work and give me the green light to continue.   Som’s language has so clearly been impacted by whatever cancer has been affecting his brain.  At one point, Som’s nurse came into the room.  The nurse was very upbeat & friendly.  He asked me if I was making a good luck charm for Som.  I said, “That’s a neat way to think about it.  I suppose the answer is yes!”  I finished the necklace of amber, black & white glass beads.  I placed it around Som’s neck.  I said here is your good luck charm.  He started to cry again.  I took his hand.  And he squeezed my hand tightly.  I said, “I feel your strength. “  He was really holding onto my hand in a very meaningful way.  I said. “I am glad we got to work together.  I am glad I got to sit with you for awhile.”  I exited the room and my head was reeling.  It had been a very profound interaction.  I think Som was sincerely grateful to have someone sit by his side and witness what he is going through. 

The following Thursday, when I went to do AYA Bedside, Som was there again.  He was in a different room this time.  A plate must have been placed back in his skull.  It was no longer sunken.  Guess what was around his neck one week later?  The good luck charm we had made together.  His spirits were better.  It was still frustrating for him to talk, but we managed a version of a conversation.  We made another necklace.  When finished, I asked if he wanted me to take off the 1st necklace and put this new one on him.  He said no.  He wanted both on at the same time.  I reached around his head and put the second necklace on him.  He told me that he was expecting to get discharged either that night or the next day.  He didn’t cry this time.  He just said, “I’m going to miss you.”

I’d like to tell you tell you about a very powerful Wednesday we recently had at a couple of our partner hospitals:

 

To start the day there were no kiddo’s at our first location.  I invited twin sisters (probably in their 60's) playing Angry Birds on their smart phones to come join in on a little art making. In the meantime, two other women came in, one of them a patient in a wheelchair the other her sister. No one in the room could escape the negativity from the argument they were having. I offered beading to them out of sympathy and to lighten the mood.  One jumped at the idea...the other complaining the entire time, but still taking the beads. Finally, one of the twins joins them, also trying to diffuse the situation. Her sister soon joins in, just as pleasant and uplifting as her twin...they make identical necklaces and felt birds and we parted having exchanged information.  By the end of our session the argument between the second pair of sisters had been completely forgotten about by the pleasant conversation and they were able to make some wonderful jewelry...eventually some kiddo’s joined in and what started as a rough morning became a colorful and fun day.

 

Upon arrival to our second location that day, there was a note taped to the art cabinet door from a nurse. It said

"To the Art and Craft Lady” -The family of a patient who passed away in September wanted to "thank you so much" for all you did to help his children while he was in here.  I remember him as the kindest father of a large family.  He and his wife had adopted some foster kids with special needs, and had some of their own. While he was in isolation at the hospital, we would feed projects in with his four children, wife and aunt. They had been thrilled and grateful to have something to do while at the hospital, and they were finally able to go home with the good news that he was in remission.  The nurse told me he had passed away very suddenly due to unexpected complications.

 

The afternoon continues and we have a good crowd at the table, beading and painting. I passed a woman in the hall in obvious distress and told her she was welcome to come in and join us. She was crying and said they had just had gotten bad news about her husband. Without thinking, I said that sometimes that was the best time to come in. She thanked me and walked off and I felt ridiculous for having even suggesting that I could possible know what is the best thing at a time like that. The Ugly Cancer.

Five minutes later, her entire clan came in one by one: the grown children, mother, his niece and her boyfriend, sisters and the granddaughter. All of them beaded.  Some of them painted quilt squares with the patient's name for a fabric art quilt to hang in the room where we have the art making. The mother of the patient was silently sobbing as she beaded her bracelet in the corner...but she recovered and came over to sit with her family as they made art.  There was laughter and good teasing, and there was joy in a sorrowful place.  This is the center of what we are all about!

DSNO!
DSNO!

Have you heard?   The Children’s Healing Art Project has added a new monthly art club in partnership with the Down Syndrome Network Oregon (DSNO).   The DSNO was formed by two moms in 2002. The group started as a coffee meet-up to provide support to families who had recently become parents to a child with Down Syndrome and has grown to include many families with children having various special needs.  We were approached by the founder of the DSNO for ART MAKING opportunities for their organization. After much talk we decided to add another monthly art club to CHAP.

In May we met for the 1st time at our CHAP ART STUDIO.  As the families arrived, there was paint of all colors, glitter, feathers, sequins, paint brushes on all the tables.  Also on the tables were empty pizza boxes!  Our 1st meeting was to add some beautiful artwork to the inside of the pizza boxes to be sent out for a personal invite to a Pizza Party benefiting CHAP.   We finished nearly 50 boxes in only an hour and a half with some amazing artwork! We provided some good old art paper and created more and more and more art pieces. These ART pieces will later be shown in the DSNO CHAP ART club’s very own  art show!  The ART was beautiful, but it was the process of  art making that was significant. We created together and got to know one another at our 1st DSNO CHAP ART CLUB meeting.   

In June, we met to make sculptures.   We provided all of the ART SUPPLIES for the DSNO to create whatever they wanted.  Besides the many colors of paint, glitter, and sequins, WE ALSO had old computer parts, large pieces of wood, many colors of glue, tape, fabric, pipe cleaners, molding clay, and stands. Taking the children’s lead, we also made jewelry. We made gorgeous necklaces and bracelets while again focusing on the process of making art.  

This July we have a wonderful ART MAKING activity planned to make bowls made from layers of papier mache and fabric.  CHAP will provide the basis for the bowl and let the children and their families be their own designer and choose from a huge selection of various fabrics to layer on the bowl using Elmer’s glue.   Of course, there will also be paint, glitter, glue and whatever ART supply the artist might want.  

 

Not only are we excited about this new partnership; everyone involved is excited.  Art Club is not just for the children, but the entire family.  We hear over and over that there are many activities for children who have Down Syndrome,  but hardly any ART MAKING.   We are so very happy to provide this service for the DSNO at the Children’s Healing Art Project.   As we plan for monthly meetings, we are often asked, “How much does the Art Class cost?”   The families are flabbergasted to be told the class if free!  As the class grows each month we vow to keep the class free for these families.  CHAP thrives on donations and we are sincerely grateful and humbled by your kind donation to help us continue to bring the healing power of art to children and their families.  THANK YOU FROM OUR HEARTS!

An Art Club Event for Continued Healing

 

CHAP’s popular Art Clubs provide fun and engaging art experiences to children with medical challenges outside of the hospital. Our monthly Art Clubs, held at the CHAP headquarters and in venues throughout the community, give children with medical challenges the chance to channel nervous energy into creative energy and express themselves through art.  It is a place where they can focus on something completely removed from their everyday lives of healthcare needs.  Art club is not only for the kids, parents and other family members find it to be a great place to find support and share experiences with other families dealing with similar issues and build friendships.  Several times per year, our Art Clubs venture out into Portland’s arts community—to see a play or a dance recital, learn about glass blowing, or host a gallery of CHAP’s own young artists’ original work. An enthusiastic turnout never fails!!

 

In February the theme was printmaking and partnerships.  Around 20 Art Clubbers and their families came to a printmaking workshop hosted by Megabolt.  Like CHAP, Megabolt believes in the healing power of art and provides sketchbooks for children in hospitals around the nation.  Their program is funded by the sales limited edition collaborative prints between kids in the hospital and professional artists.  CHAP’s Art Club helped in painting backgrounds for Megabolt’s latest poster designed by the famous poster designer Bungaloo.  The Megabolt staff laid out the posters all neat and orderly on the tables…and in no time, and in true CHAP fashion, our Art Clubbers showed them how we do it!! Paint was flying everywhere in brightly colored splatters, hand prints, and huge paintbrush swooshes!!  Each artist got to take home a few posters and as many Megabolt sketchbooks they could carry, and the rest of the posters are being sold on Megabolt’s website so they can continue to provide sketchbooks for kids in hospitals. 

 

It meant a lot to the kids and families of CHAP to be able to pay it forward, and know that their art will continue to help bring the healing power of art to other kids and families in crisis.  Check out the video attached to catch an exclusive glimpse of what CHAP’s Art Club looks like.

 

 

At CHAP, children are known for their creativity and ingenuity—not by their disease, diagnosis or disability.

Links:

Children's Healing Art Project (a.k.a. CHAP) continues to have a strong presence at OHSU, a major medical center in Portland, OR.  Our non-profit is represented at Doernbecher Children's Hospital three days a week, at the Schnitzer Diabetes Center one day a week and also at OHSU's Knight Center Institute one day a week.  Interestingly enough, our work at the Knight Center has CHAP working with more of an adult population.  There CHAP offers art supplies to the patients in their patient rooms.  With our outreach, we welcome entire families and their guests to be a part of CHAP.  For those patients that are feeling well enough, we encourage them to come down to the Family Room where we can set up a more collaborative and communal experience.   That being the case, CHAP often gets to work with children and grandchildren at the Knight Center.  CHAP believes that venues such as this can take nervous energy and turn it into creative energy.  Two of the most popular projects at the Knight Center are watercolors and jewelry making.  It is not uncommon to meet first-time jewelers that are pleased and impressed with what they can create from our generous bead collection.  Satisfaction and pride abounds when a patient or one of their family members completes a piece, whether it be a necklace or a painting.  Sometimes people with no particular exposure to art pick up some clay or some paint and start to realize a whole new side of themselves.  It is an honor to watch this unfold within the confines of a hospital setting. 

The CHAP program at the Schnitzer Diabetes Center is based out of their waiting area.  Since this clinic sees both adults and children, we are able to approach 'children of all ages'.  Youngsters that accompany a parent or sibling to their check-up are thrilled and delighted to have the opportunity to interact with CHAP.  It is such a well-known and well-regarded program for diabetes.  People come from all corners of the state of Oregon and beyond.  The paintings that children make are often left behind so that they can decorate the walls of the waiting room.  There is nothing better than seeing the look on a child's face when they realize that they are the artist represented on the wall! 

Joseph Campbell once said that he believes strongly in "participating joyfully in the sorrows of the world".  Children's Healing Art Project does hold this same sentiment.  It is very hard indeed to be a patient in the hospital, whether it be for one day or three weeks.  Our non-profit strives to provide a positive and joy-filled experience to the people that we meet within the hospital setting.  If, for just a couple hours, we can get a child to momentarily leave their worries behind and focus on a simple art project, we have succeeded in our mission.  And the relief that this program can provide to parents and caregivers is not to go unmentioned.  Despite the intensity of a hospital admission, art - amazingly - can bring great levity to the situation.  It is such an outlet to so many people, big and small.

Children's Healing Art Project is pleased to report that we have our 2nd Art Show on display on the pediatric hematology / oncology floor at Doernbecher Children's hospital.  There are are 47 pieces in the show, with a focus on paintings.  They range in size from 5" x 7" to 20" x 20" acrylic paintings.  Through the kindness of NIKE, we have repurposed some of their foamcore marketing materials and used these 'boards' as makeshift canvases.  It works out great and is good for the environment too!  With the support of the hospital administration, we were able to hold an 'opening reception' in the Play Room of the ward.  This is a lovely way to celebrate the artists and their contribution to the show.  It really is very satisfying for the artists (in this case, patients and their family members) to see their hard work so prominently displayed.  Light refreshments were served and those that were able to gathered in the Play Room.  Name cards and the title of the piece are listed so that each artist in the show can be known by first name.  With this show, some of the pieces are even for sale!  This adds a whole new level of excitement for the young artists!  The hospital administration has agreed to let this show be up for two (2) weeks.   It is our intention to make this Art Show a frequent occurrence on the floor of 10 South.

Parents Night is another unique offering that CHAP gives to the families on the Pediatric Hematology / Oncology floor.  This is run once a week, on a Friday evening from 7 - 9pm.  Here, we try to focus a little more on the parents and adult caregivers.  The demands are great to be a mother or father to a sick child.  We sincerely want to reach out to this amazing group of people and provide them with a creative (a social) outlet.  This is held in the hospital classroom to make it feel a little different from the art experience for the kids held in the Play Room during the afternoon. 

Thank you for your support of our hospital program at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Schnitzer Diabetes Center and the Knight Center Institute at OHSU.  Your support enables our non-profit to bring the healing power of art to children & their families.  We all thank you!

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Project Leader

Heather Housen

Portland, OR United States

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Map of Bring healing art to children in medical crisis