Children's Art Therapy: Creations from Post Disasters
A Community Outreach Program
This art therapy project was developed initially out of the need to communicate with parents in a post disaster situation. As a FEMA disaster-housing inspector for over twelve years for Individual Household Assistance (IHP), my job is to help victims rebuild their lives, and homes after a natural or manmade disaster.
When entering the homes of disaster victims, one realizes that the emotional stress of this situation can be tenuous for adults as well as children. The inspector needs the parents’ attention while focusing on writing up their habitation needs. At the same time their children can be provided an outlet to express their feelings about the recent hazard. Gaining the full attention of the parents is vital for a successful intake and this can be difficult when there are children vying for attention.
One day when I was working a post disaster flood event, I asked a child at the age of 6 if she had a set of crayons and some blank paper. I asked the child if she would like to draw me a picture of her home that was flooded during the incident. She proceeded to create a masterful drawing of her home, with artful creative expressions of what occurred. This proved to be a very positive event, and now in my fourth year since, I have collected over 200 pictures from children made during post-disaster home inspections. This art therapy has proved to be an enhanced aid for both the parents and the children to recover.
This book is created out of the care that children need as an expressive outlet after experiencing a hazard event, and the parents recognize a benefit from their children expressing through art. It is my hope that this art-therapy can release some post-traumatic stress from a tragic event in their lives.
When our neighborhood in the Northeast end of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles was devastated by a huge brushfire that burned over 400 homes and gave ours a singeing plus a lot of water and smoke damage, we, like our neighbors in Sylmar, California registered with FEMA and other agencies. A few days later I got a phone call: "I'm Gina, your FEMA inspector. Can we meet at your home tomorrow morning at 10:30?" and we made the date (we had been evacuated and were living across town with my parents before finding a rental that we wound up being in for many months due to the restoration issues re. power, water, etc. etc. and then the repairs to our home)
Gina and I pulled up in front of our home at more or less the same moment and I met a small but very athletic wirey woman who got out, looked up the hillside behind my home, and said memorably, "Well, good thing I'm a professional athlete." I asked why and she explained that her NEXT stop was to actually hike up the hillside behind our home to inspect and photograph a burned out homeless shanty so that the govt. could buy them a new tent! Anyhow, we shook hands and entered our home.
I should explain that I had a career in the movie and TV business and that involved a lot of interaction with things Disney (as did my secondary side-career as a food/wine/hospitality/tourism writer, editor,
etc. etc. which afforded me a lot of press access to the parks and I had friends in Imagineering.) Because of this, the decor of my living room was made of a lot of rare Disney illustrations including Imagineering sketches and plans for things like Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, etc. etc.
Anyhow, when Gina came into my living room and saw these, she said with a smile, "Well THAT brings back a lot of memories!" And of course agreed thinking that they would for any Southern Californian who, like me, grew up with Disneyland as a part of their lives. But then she explained: "No, you don't understand--when I said I was a professional athlete? This is what I meant." And THEN she explained about her amazing career with the circus and then as Tink flying down that wire every night from the tip of the Matterhorn and lighting the Fantasy in the Sky show to the delight of millions of Disneyland guests, including, quite often, me! I was, of course, fascinated and happy to share a few Disneyland memories and explore my collection a bit further as she did her job for FEMA and made her inspection and notes.
When we were done and she got back in her car I thanked her and then leaned in close and added this: "Oh, and Gina? One more thing?" "Yes, Dan?" she replied.
I began applauding and said "I believe in you, Tink! Now get me some money?" We ROARED with laughter together and she drove away!
Alas, FEMA didn't do much for us responsible people who had insurance--seems you had to have made NO preparations to get much assistance--but the experience stays with me still and I always tell people about what my wife and I call our "Hollywood Fire" explaining, "You want to know how 'Hollywood' our fire was? Tinkerbell was our FEMA inspector!"
Anyhow, it was a great pleasure to meet this amazing lady, and have a little brush with "magic" in the midst of our disaster.
All the best,
Dan (and Kathy)
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