Art creates opportunities to heal at Casa Alitas’ shelter for migrants

Art creates opportunities to heal at Casa Alitas’ shelter for migrants


-The Trump administration’s
Zero Tolerance Policy at the border garnered
widespread attention and scrutiny over its
resulting family separations, a federal judge
ordered a stop to it after more than 26 hundred
children had been separated. Last month a Government
Watchdog report detailed the trauma endured by children. While CBP has told us
it limits instances where it separates families, their journey to the US
can still involve hardship. Over the last year hundreds
of families seeking asylum have found refuge at
Casa Alitas in Tucson. A short term shelter
for migrants run by Catholic Community Services, along with sanctuary children
and adults are also given an opportunity to
heal through art. We learn more from
Valerie Lee James, a former clinical art therapist, and the art activities program
director at Casa Alitas. – Our expressive arts
here at Casa Alita are part of a continuum
of trauma informed care that we do here. And so we don’t really
call it therapy, but its expressive arts and
that’s exactly what it does. The other thing that
happens with expressive arts is it really helps
to build a little bit of resiliency in the short term. So especially when we
teach emergency English, which is part of that, it’s actually part
of expressive arts, which involves the visual
arts, movement, music. These are all modalities
that really help to dislodge, really stuck places,
undigested feelings and help us to process emotions. – One of the things that has
kind of been, kind of new, I think, is expressive
art for adults as well. Are you seeing that
through some of the parents that you’re seeing coming
through your doors as well? – Absolutely, and I’m glad
you asked that question. Many times we have adults kind
of shyly joined the groups, they’re very happy that
their kids are being directed into this structure. It’s very much like a
squeal as going to school. And so sometimes
adults will sit in, but then we really
encourage them also, some of the most beautiful
work that we see here is done by adults as well. – Guests can express
themselves in a variety of ways from embroidery to
sculpting and drawing. Their first introduction to
art happens during intake. Crayons and coloring
books adorn each table where volunteers
process new arrivals, finished work also
decorates the wing. – [Valarie] The
kids just love being able to put their work up after they do it and join
all the rest of the work that’s on the wall
and write their names and the countries they’re
from and their ages. – [Lorraine] James says art
she sees children create regularly features homes, nature and often conveys a
sense of gratitude. – Well, first we
see images of faith. And that’s something
that you see quite a bit and these are spontaneously
done by guests that come in and they’re just so grateful
to have made it here. – Because you are
an art therapist, do
you ever run the risk of looking at something
and misinterpreting it, because it may not be
what you think it is. – Actually, we are careful about interpreting
children’s work, this child is expressing
any number of things. And we really can’t know
what’s truly going on here. What’s important for them
is that they did the work, to be able to get some
of those feelings out, some of the post traumatic
stress that’s carried, of course after a
journey like this. – But so much of
what has transpired. And I think for a lot of people, the last thing to
consider would be art, but for you, this has
been top priority. – Yes, art is life. Art is literally the
universal language and brings us all together. – [Lorraine] Art hanging
in Casa Alitas speaks to the transformation
happening in what was once a juvenile detention
center for Pima County. The most move here from the
Benedictine Monastery in August led some to
criticize the optics. To make this space
its own Casa Alitas set up an outdoor clothing bank. Established commentaries with
plenty of seating and toys, built an outdoor garden
and hung mosaic tile murals created by the county
program last of this. – The other day I
was here and kids were running back and forth
in the halls behind me, laughing and screaming. And normally you might
say, you know, calm, calm. But in this case, we are happy
to see those kids having fun, and they’re having fun
because they’re surrounded by all these images that
remind them of home. So it’s pretty extraordinary
what’s happened here and what we’re still
putting together. – Other services
offered include a chapel where volunteer pastors of many
faiths can schedule visits. Community donations
also helped keep an art supply room stocked, allowing families to leave
Casa Alitas with activity bags. What are you hoping these
children take with them when they leave your doors on
the next leg of their journey? – We really hope that
kids and adults leave here with a sense of having
found some safety and a little bit of relief. You know, going through. It’s so traumatic going
through this kind of migration with family displacement,
and we just hope that they feel safe here.

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