Bring healing art to children in medical crisis

by Children's Healing Art Project (CHAP)

This summer marked CHAP's 10-year anniversary. It's a big milestone. When I stop to think about all the families we have worked with, it's staggering.

On a recent morning, I checked on my group of patients. I came to a certain room and as I explained what I was there for, the patient stopped me and said, "Remember me?  It's Jennifer*." The minute she said it, it all came flashing back. She looked so different. Thinner. Older. Older beyond her years. Just a few years ago, CHAP worked with this young lady over at the children's hospital. Now, she's a young adult and it took me by surprise to see her again. It was her voice that triggered my memory the most.

Jennifer did come & join me in the Family Room. She was so sweet and eager to do art. Instantly, her gaze was drawn to a familiar sight - a small Spirit House. It was perched on top of the refrigerator, right across the room from her.  I gathered colorful tissue paper and our special blend of water and Elmer's glue  If you get the ratios just right, it should resemble the consistency of milk. Jennifer got right to business, applying colors she liked + cutting little hearts out of the tissue paper. While she is hard at work, another patient enters the room. I have met this patient several times over the past few months. I am quite taken with her. She's so upbeat, fun and creative. Her name is Yvette*.  

The two women start talking. I find this to be an incredible pairing. Yvette is crafting another stunning necklace and Jennifer is slowly covering the plain cheesecloth surface with more pleasurable bursts of color. Yvette has this great style where she very thoughtfully selects her beads from one color palette and she she'll sneak in one random bead of a fully different color. This has become her signature move. The two artists could not be more different.  

Jennifer asks what kind of cancer Yvette is being treated for and how she found out she had cancer. It's such an unraveling. I will never forget a mom saying that when her young son was diagnosed it was "such an assault." I recall this phrase time & time again when I hear people speak of this moment. An assault. Yvette shares her story, freely. Jennifer tells her long and ongoing battle with cancer. There's no fairness to any of it.

The women are with me for an hour, perhaps more. When Yvette goes to leave, Jennifer says, "You are amazing and strong woman." Yvette receives this compliment with grace as she turns around and smiles., "I don't know it any other way."   

Jennifer says to me, "CHAP is great. You're like family!" While on FaceTime with her mom, she spins her camera around so that her mom can see me. A familiar face indeed. She thanks me for being there to make art with her daughter.  

Jennifer takes acrylic paint, a small canvas and some beads back to her room. We ran out of time, so she wants to be stocked up. Our art program returns in 1 week and those days are long for patients like Jennifer who are thirsty to do art, get out of their rooms and meet some of their amazing peers.

As I get ready to go, I pass Jennifer's nurse in the hallway. She remarks on Jennifer's energy before and after CHAP.  She said at the beginning of the morning, Jennifer was sullen and hard to communicate with. After being in the Family Room, the nurse could see such an improvement in Jennifer's energy. CHAP really enlivened her and improved her mood. What a pleasure to get that kind of support from the nursing staff. People are noticing the difference art can make. I was sure to give Yvette some credit, too, for helping make the experience so positive.

* Names have been changed to protect patient privacy 


In addition to serving children, CHAP also works with adults admitted to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. We wanted to share an experience from earlier this month. Thank you for making stories like these possible!! --- Sarah Panetta, Executive Director


"We Are All Connected"

Camaraderie.  Noun.  Mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.

This morning after being at work for just 10 minutes, a patient named Cathy* says to me, "This is a wonderful ministry you have here." She speaks these words as she glides into the Family Room and her eyes pour over the paint, beads and mandalas. Cathy places her walker off to the side and pulls a chair up to the table. "They almost seem... alive,"  she declares as she fingers through the collection of beads. She quickly decides to make a bracelet for her daughter. In order to select just the right colors, Cathy takes a picture of the bead assortment. With the help of her smartphone, she sends the photo to her daughter. Within minutes, her daughter replies: "Yellow with blue accents on a bracelet, please." I tell her this is the hunt & gather phase, as Cathy sorts through all the yellow and aqua blue beads. She is totally pleased with the selection. The increase in her energy is tangible. "This gives some purpose to the day. Oh, my goodness!"

As Cathy completes her bracelet, another woman named Maura* enters the Family Room. I have met her before on this unit. Her best friend Betty* has entered into "comfort care". This is denoted with a laminated piece of paper with the image of a white dove on the patient's door. Thankfully, the staff has already alerted me to the fact that we are losing this dear soul and very soon. Maura's heart is heavy with her friend's impending death. Cathy has met Maura, too. They talk over the bead table. Cathy is extremely sweet and supportive. The 3 of us start talking about singing. I tell Maura that Cathy has written a song and performed it for me. With not much cajoling, Cathy says she will sing it for her. Maura begs her to wait until she can grab Betty's sister, who will surely want to hear this.

Maura produces not just one, but two of Betty's sisters. A patient's spouse has joined our group. Our friend Cathy stands up in front of the five of us. This lady's strong and steady voice fills the room and surely trickles down the hallway. We're all captivated. At one point in the performance, she rips off her knit hat (shaped like a cupcake, no less) for dramatic flair. Her wild and thin hair is set free with this gesture. Cathy is a true performer and she has found her audience. We all clap for her. We learn that Betty was a fabulous singer, a lyric soprano, as one of her sisters tells me. I had been visiting Betty for months, but never knew that detail about her. This generates much conversation about Betty's beautiful voice. Even on the phone, her friends loved the sound of Betty's voice. Cathy wishes that she & Betty could have sung together.

The spouse who slipped in earlier has silently made a bracelet while Cathy was singing. She had been in the background through much of this, but then started opening up. She knew she had entered a safe place in that Family Room. She told us her story, her husband's sudden illness, how she strolls the halls of this hospital every time her husband is resting, trying to keep busy. Her journey is met and held with tenderness by the other women in the room. Cathy says, "This is what this floor is missing - camaraderie. But CHAP brought it with the bead table." Cathy turns to me and says, "Why aren't you here every day?"

When the group starts to say their good-byes, there are hugs and the extension of prayers in all directions. One of Betty's sisters says, "We are all connected." Everyone is amazed by each person's strength and perseverance in the face of cancer. No one's experience is minimized. Every woman honors the next. The time passes as a trifecta of crying, laughing and smiling. They all bear witness to each other. The stories are all slightly different, but in the end the same.  "That was inspirational," adds Betty's sister.

The spouse stays with me to make a few more things. She realizes I have alphabet beads and she wishes to make something with her husband's name on it. She collects more beads, blues and reds, the letters of his name. She helps me tidy up. She's so grateful for the interactions with these great women this morning. It felt like a sisterhood. It was. It is.


Puppet brothers created in-hospital
Puppet brothers created in-hospital

In 2015, we recorded 7,506 healing art experiences in the hospital. During our first 10 years, we've provided nearly 40,000 art experiences in-hospital - always free of charge to the patients and families we serve. We wanted to share one of those stories with you, as an example of what your gifts make possible. 



On a recent Monday morning, I worked with two young siblings in the waiting area outside Pediatric Surgery. The parents and children had been led to the waiting room by Beth, one of the Child Life Specialists at Doernbecher. They were anticipating a long wait while their older brother was in surgery. As she delivered them, Beth extended her arm toward CHAP and told the boy + girl they could make jewelry while they waited for their big brother. The children came to the table right away. After each item they finished, they proudly scurried back to their mom + dad to show off their work.

The next day, I was on the 9th Floor to create art with post-surgery patients. The Child Life Specialist on this unit, Kim, told me she had a child she wanted to bring down to do art with CHAP. We started rounding up patients to join us and quickly had a full Play Room. Within a few minutes, I saw the little brother from the day before. I remembered his name instantly and he smiled back in recognition.

Kim brought the patient she'd mentioned and it just so happened to be the big brother of the child I'd worked with the day before. 

When he arrived, he was full of tears. Kim explained that the boy needed to drink a lot of fluid and he was very upset about it. If he wasn't able to drink enough, we both knew the alternative would be putting in an NG tube - which goes up the nose, down the back of the throat and into the stomach. We wanted to help him avoid that!

The patient continued to cry. He seemed uncomfortable, clutching his abdomen. In pain at the thought of drinking so much, he moaned. The younger brother looked wide-eyed at him from across the table. 

I re-directed the little one to a project. Kim made a proposition to the patient: “Put 5 beads on your necklace and then take a sip of your drink,” which was medicine with Gatorade to help improve its taste. The patient agreed, and this worked for a little while. 

A few minutes later I heard, "Make 5 brush strokes on your painting and then get some more fluid in you.” It didn’t look like the patient could bear it much longer. Kim recognized she was at a crossroads. 

Kim explained very clearly to the patient that if he didn’t drink this certain amount, the nurse would need to put in an NG tube. He didn’t really know what that meant. Kim said, "Would you like me to show you one?" She grabbed a sample from her medical play supplies. The patient examined the tube at the art table. Kim described how the thin plastic tube would be inserted up his nose, down the back of his throat and into his stomach. The patient considered all this and said, "Okay. I give up on this drinking. I agree to the NG tube." Kim, though surprised, was pleased the patient came to this decision on his own.

The patient had to leave the Play Room to get the NG tube placed. The little brother stayed. He happily made a puppet and used paint. When it was time to go, I said to him, "I'm so glad I got to see you two days in a row. You're such a good artist!" We rolled the CHAP Art Cart out of the Play Room and shifted the tables & chairs back into their original places. I said to him, "I hope your big brother gets well soon." He smiled and went off to reconnect with the rest of the family.

As we've reported before, so much of the time what patients - especially pediatric patients - crave is CONTROL. Often creating art provides the outlet they need to make decisions and take a measure of control over their situation. In this case, making art created space for the patient to interact with the Child Life specialist and gradually gain some control in a difficult situation. Creating art gave the little brother space to manage his fears and worries about what his older brother was experiencing.

Thank you for making it possible for us to do this work!


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!



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


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Children's Healing Art Project (CHAP)

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Website: http:/​/​
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Children's Healing Art Project
Portland, OR United States
$72,665 raised of $75,000 goal
712 donations
$2,335 to go
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