May 2, 2016

"I thought you were all crazy!"

The minute I arrived on 10 South, she started hugging me and talking in rapid-fire Spanish.  It took a moment to understand…. “Thank you! Thank you!” she was saying. “He is so happy now. I never thought he could paint, he has changed so much and he is so happy! Thank you, thank you!”

When I first met them, newly admitted Raul* lay quietly in bed with Mom and Dad hovering and fussing around him, as nurses settled him in. Although 14 years old, he is non-verbal and appears to have developmental delays, so presents as a much younger child.  “No thank you,” they graciously said, they did not care for any art supplies. The next week, after a few more visits from CHAP staff and encouragement for the adults to participate even if Raul didn’t feel like it, Dad came in for some beads. Their daughter at home is a “Daddy’s girl” he explains, and he would like to make her a necklace. He picks out an assortment of lavender beads and retreats to their room to work.  A bit later he proudly returns with a stunning, intricate and carefully designed necklace and then decides to make a matching bracelet. 

With Dad’s visible pride, success and encouragement, Mom and Raul now decide to come into the art room.   “He doesn’t like to get dirty,” Mom is quick to warn us, as Raul decides to give painting a try. Mom draws a heart on the large paper for Raul, shows him how to dip the brush in the paint and apply it to the paper. She paints alongside him, as he gingerly begins. He dips and paints, dips and paints, over and over again, covering the paper, edge to edge with layer upon layer of color. He looks calm and is smiling; he appears mesmerized by the process. More paper, and he continues to paint!

Dad needs to head home and get back to work, but before leaving, comes in for another set of beads. This time he makes an intricate pink necklace and bracelet for his daughter, telling me all about her, as I close the jewelry for him and bid him safe travels. Raul continues painting regularly with CHAP, but Mom always just watches and helps, despite encouragement to do her own project. Then at Parent Night she admits seeing others painting canvas bags and decides to give it a try.  Reluctant to get started and hesitant with each step, Mary guides her and the project turns out beautifully successful. She tells Mary that at forty-two, she had never painted and had no idea she could learn something new, “at THAT age!”  

When I arrived the next day, after the first round of hugs, she tells me about painting the bag. She texted pictures of it to her husband, who exclaimed it was so gorgeous and couldn’t believe that SHE painted it on her FIRST try! She had to tell him three times that she did it herself, before he finally believed her! 

Several times throughout that Saturday shift, she hugged me and told me “thank you” for a multitude of different things. And today, for the first time, she leaves him alone in the art room with us…painting…while she packed up the room to leave.  Although the adults speak perfect English, she tells me before leaving to pack, that Raul likes it when I speak to him in Spanish.

“You know,” she finally confides to me, “I thought you were all crazy when you kept offering for him to do some art. I just saw him as very sick and thought he should just lie there to get better. Now I know that painting has changed his life! He loves it, he is smiling more than ever, he doesn’t mind getting messy. He has changed so much! He is happy! Thank you!”

*Name changed to honor confidentiality

The numbers are in - thanks to our generous supporters, we provided OVER 7500 healing art experiences in the hospital in 2015. (11,000 total, counting work outside the hospital) THANK YOU FOR MAKING THIS POSSIBLE!


Mar 17, 2016

"Love is hard" - serving a little sister

Your gifts make it possible for us to provide art supplies and staffing to bring the healing power of art to children and their families as they face medical challenges. Often we serve the siblings of patients who are undergoing critical treatment. We wanted to share a story about how your gifts made it possible for us to serve a little sister who exuded love – for her brother and for all of us.

Recently Rosy* (age 6) joyfully announced, “I want to be a volunteer when I grow up!” This fantastic statement came off the heels of many consecutive months in the hospital. Her teenage brother, the patient, was very private and introverted. Rosy, however, was a true ‘people person.’ She knew everyone by name and knew which volunteer would arrive next. CHAP and the army of hospital volunteers had become the everyday figures in Rosy’s life during her brother’s treatment. She embraced us all, literally and figuratively.

Her brother Jesse* had been through so much. In autumn, his young body endured weeks in the ICU. Rosy could be found walking the hallways with her father during this tenuous time. Occasionally, Rosy would join CHAP doing beading outside of Pediatric Surgery. Her brother wasn’t in surgery, but she and her dad knew they take refuge with us. I wanted so much to spare her the scene in the ICU.

The heaviness seemed too much for girl of her age. Usually Rosy was vibrant, but there was one Friday afternoon when she slept in a beanbag in the corner while we worked around her. She was utterly exhausted. 

Rosy was an instant friend to many. She had a gift with the littler ones. She loved to assist one 2-year-old patient in his red wagon. They would collaborate on paintings. The patient would remain perched in his chariot. Rosy would pull up alongside in a chair. With a ready spirit, she would blend paint colors for him and hand him new paintbrushes when he extended his arm in request. It was a pleasure to be a witness to these interactions.

In our experience, the kids at the hospital just want to have some control. In a recent staff meeting, we reflected on how this little girl would flit from one art project to the next. Occasionally Rosy would be focused and could complete a task. More often, she would get distracted and start many projects and finish few of them. We always allow this, providing a space where the art-maker can follow their muse.

My colleague Carolyn noticed that Rosy was drawn to squishing clay. Carolyn would squirt tempera paint into the clay and Rosy would don a pair of purple plastic gloves and massage the goopy mess. Regressive and sloppy.

There were a few occasions when my colleague Mary and I poured tempera paint directly into Rosy’s hands. With great delight, Rosy would make handprints on huge pieces of white butcher paper. It looked fantastic. Then she’d ask for more paint and go over the beautiful handprints. In the end, it was usually smears of brown with a few highlights of army green. Rosy did this so happily with her 8-year old friend Missy*, another patient’s sibling. They had a blast painting this way. Mary and I had a blast squeezing paint into their palms and listening to their squeals. They were truly having fun in the midst of all the chaos. 

Rosy relied heavily on the hospital volunteers, Child Life staff and CHAP. When we saw Rosy’s parents, we always made a point to tell them their daughter was a good girl and that we enjoyed making art with her. Their gratitude was obvious and Mom would grace us with her beautiful smile. 

On a recent Friday, Mary and I taped down some bedsheets to serve as tarps and let Rosy and a little 3-year old patient splatter paint. Once again, we saw that these messy releases – in the midst of an environment that is so sterile by necessity – were the best fit.

In the end, Rosy’s brother passed away. He died in the middle of the night, in his mother’s arms. Rosy helped make handprints of Jesse with her mother.

When we learned about Jesse’s death the next day – when his family was already headed home after so many long days in the hospital – we put together an offering for Rosy, a Valentine’s Day care package with assorted goodies. Carolyn tucked a bracelet she made for Rosy into the bag as we packaged it for mailing. The gift will greet Rosy at home as she begins a journey of grief. She shared so much during her time at Doernbecher. We all did.


*Names have been changed to honor confidentiality

Dec 21, 2015

Emilie's Beads

A peek at the beads Emilie's family brought CHAP
A peek at the beads Emilie's family brought CHAP

In this season of giving and sharing with family and friends, we've been reflecting a great deal on some of our cherished connections.

Part of bringing the healing power of art to children and families facing medical challenges is that we make trusting and long-lasting connections. More often than we'd like, those connections are colored by heartbreak.

Last week we were visited by Emilie's family. We never had a chance to meet Emilie - and are so, SO honored that her family has chosen Children's Healing Art Project to help carry her legacy. According to Alissa + Robbie, her parents, Emilie LOVED art, and was writing her own name and drawing family portraits by age 2 . At age 6, Emilie was one of the children lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. 

To honor Emilie's memory, they created the Emilie Parker Art Connection, and pass along 100% of proceeds to community art programs that connect children with art. We were humbled to be mentioned in their posting on December 14, 2015, marking the third anniversary of her loss.

When Robbie + Alissa made their most recent visit to CHAP, they brought an incredible bounty - a box full of beautiful beads, wire, jewelry tools, charms.... They'd received it from a generous woman who'd decided to close her store and wanted to find a meaningful home for these last few items. They thought of us.

As we've shared in past reports, beading is one of our most powerful and popular programs. So far in 2015, we've provided over 3,000 healing art experiences using beads as the creative medium. (This is 1/3 of the total number of art experiences we expect to offer this year.)

When we sit with families at Doernbecher Children's Hospital while they're waiting outside surgery, we've found that people of all ages are drawn toward the beads. Children who are waiting for their turn - and feeling a bit antsy and also perhaps grumpy because they haven't been allowed to eat while preparing for surgery - are quickly distracted by the concentration it takes to select just the right beads and carefully string them. Parents who are waiting to hear that their children are out of surgery - and hoping for good news about the outcome - find beading to be calming and perhaps meditative. Beading is also something inpatients of all ages enjoy - especially those in the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) oncology program at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. There's a reason humans have continued making and using beads for centuries!

Being with Robbie + Alissa for a few moments in between errands and less than a week from what must be one of the hardest days each year, was a gift. Being the recipients of generosity that came through their efforts was a blessing. Being part of Emilie's legacy - helping her family live their goal of paying forward the love and support they've received - is a sacred trust.

Sharing the healing power of art is our shared mission. Thank YOU for making it possible for us to do this work. 


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