Healing Art Kits bring comfort in traumatic times

By Christy Smith - Walton Living

The Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts makes and distributes MD Healing Art Kits to help those with various needs. Children’s kits and teen-adults kits are made. Special to Walton Living

Imagine sitting in a courtroom with 11 siblings waiting to learn where their next home will be. Picture a nurse trying to reach a dementia patient or an unconscious patient. 

How does one calm a child having an emotional breakdown?

Art MD Healing Art Kits, distributed by Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts, can help in such situations. 

The act of creating art has powerful healing properties whether that is doodling mindlessly on a scrap of paper or laboring to create an oil painting on canvas. 

In a study published in the journal Art Therapy, three-quarters of participants experienced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol during a 45-minute art-making session — regardless of previous art experience.

Hope Reese, 65, MWCA director, understands the healing power of art and brought to life the Art MD Healing Kit. 

“The earlier you can get art into someone’s hands, the faster they heal from trauma,” Reese said.

Children’s Art MD Healing Art Kits contain an original art journal, stuffed animal, crayons, stickers, Play-Doh, and when available, original angel paintings by MWCA artists, as well as original art by Sandy Blanchard. 

The Teen/Adult kit includes a 60-page Art & Distraction Journal with original art by Donna Coffman and journal prompts, colored pencils, sharpener and a black marker. 

Police officers, nurses, firefighters, social workers, and clergy are some of the first people a child or adult see while experiencing a traumatic event. Since 2018, volunteers with MWCA have donated more than 2,000 art kits to police and sheriff’s department, hospitals, foster parents, mentoring and learning centers, pregnancy resource centers, children’s advocacy agencies, and agencies assisting children undergoing trauma – such as an accident, illness, parents arrested, or children removed from an unhealthy home environment. Art kits are funded through donations, grants and sponsors, and are free to recipients. 

“The art kits are very well received.”, said Brenda Moulder, patient experience coordinator, Piedmont Walton Hospital.

“The art kits are especially great for patients with dementia, or those who are isolated due to contagion or few visitors,” Moulder said. “The booklets in the adult kits are very much appreciated. The kits are great for children who are there with a loved one getting treatment and need to be occupied.”

Piedmont Walton Hospital’s name is on each kit because they are one of the main sponsors, said artist Julie Bell. 

The hospital held a cookout to raise money for the kits, which can be life savers during hectic and traumatic moments.

“A mom comes in with a sick or injured person and there is no one to watch the child, the kit keeps the child distracted,” Bell said. “In one case, a mom brought her daughter in with what was believed to be a broken arm. The brother was jealous of all the attention she was getting, so he was given an art box. It kept him busy and allowed the mother to focus on her daughter. Another time, a boy had a mental breakdown and could not be calmed down. The art kit gave him something to use his brain on. They said it was the calmest he’d been in 48 hours.”

The little stuffed animal comes in handy for Morgan Ooley, a trauma nurse in Northside Hospital Gwinnett’s emergency room.

“A patient had to go through further testing and was scared,” Ooley said. “We gave the stuffed animal a name and the patient held it and talked to it while testing.”

Marc Hammes, 50, Monroe, laid in an induced coma, too sick to even have any visitors, from December, 2021 to April, 2022.

“They gave me the art kit when I woke up,” Hammes said. “Julie (Bell) had written well wishes from people in the journal. My parents kept doctors’ notes and different things in it. I have no memory of those months, and the journal became my memory. I was able to reconnect with the nurses who wrote in it and thank them. I saw that time from the perspective of others.”

After months of immobility, Hammes’ fingers and hands needed physical therapy. “I had heard about the art kits and thought it was a sweet idea, never dreaming I would receive one,” he said. “I used items in the art kit to practice drawing, writing my letters. I used the Play-Doh as a squeeze ball. It was good mental therapy, too. I couldn’t do much after laying in bed for that long and I got bored and frustrated. The art kit truly helped my recovery.”

The idea for art kits was born more than a decade ago when Reese’s daughter’s girl scout troop needed a service project. Reese approached a local hospital offering free art kits, but the project never got off the ground.

“The idea percolated in my mind since then,” said Reese. “When I became director [of MWCA] in 2017, it was one of our first projects. I saw it as a way to connect with the community and serve them. We believe in the healing nature of art, and it bugged me the hospital had nothing like that. Now they do.”

Kathy Suber, Walton County Alcovy CASA volunteer coordinator, keeps art kits on hand. 

Alcovy CASA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of children in foster care in Newton and Walton Counties.

“The kits distract children from the anxiety of being in court, because they have to sit with us during hearings” Suber said. “The things talked about make them uncomfortable. The kits are a great distraction. It calms their spirit and gives them something to focus on. I make it a point to always have some available.”

Artist Sandy Blanchard, 62, created the art book included in the children’s kit. That book has traveled all the way to California to help a woman in an assisted living home, she said.

Donna Coffman, a lifelong artist, contributed to the art book in the teen/adult box. She says her personal journaling is healing, and she believes everyone has some artistic ability.

“Sometimes I write in my journal, sometimes I collage over it, paint over it, sometimes I color in the loops of the writing,” Coffman said. “It is mine and I can create as I want. People say, ‘I am not an artist.’ I say, ‘You write your name every day. That is drawing with letters.’ To create is good for our brains.”

Monroe Walton Center for the Arts welcomes volunteers to stuff art kits. The center needs sponsors, as well as donations of small stuffed animals (like Beenie Babies), Crayola crayons, art items and monetary donations. 

For more information, contact Hope Reese at 770-207-8937 email: mag@monroeartguild.org.

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