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 eleven years serving the Individual Household Program (IHP), my job was to help victims rebuild their 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 devastating for adults as well as children. The home inspector while focusing on collecting damage intake realizes the children also would like to express what has occurred. Gaining the full attention of the parents is vital for a successful intake. While on the job at a 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 a picture of her home that was flooded during the incident. The child proceeded to create a masterful drawing of her home, with artful creative expression of what occurred. This proved to be a very positive event, and now after four years collecting over 200 pictures from children that created hand drawn depictions of their incident. This Disaster Art Therapy has proved to be an enhanced method for both the parents and the children to start a recovery process.
This book is created out of the care that both children and parents can use as a tool for the recovery, after experiencing a post-hazard event. This stumbled upon process had proved to be a positive event during the intake, and most often I left the home with both the children and parents feeling a small moment of joy after asking if I may take the picture and place it in a book.
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, it's a good thing I'm athletic." I asked why and she explained that her NEXT stop was to actually hike up the hillside behind our home to see another applicant! 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 athletic? 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)
*image not related to story*