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FSU Art Therapy Brings Stars of Hope to Panama City, Florida: A Reflection

Published April 18, 2019

Stars of HopeOn February 8th and 9th of 2019, Dr. Barbara Parker-Bell and graduate students from the Florida State University Art Therapy Program collaborated with Bay Arts Alliance in Bay County and the Stars of HOPE® project coordinated by Florida art therapist, Stephanie Wray, to provide a therapeutic arts program to those impacted by Hurricane Michael. Stars of Hope reached youth in the 5th grade classes who painted stars that were later hung in some of the hardest hit parts of the county. The painted Stars of Hope were created to help bring hope and support to the residents as they continue to rebuild the community. Dr. Barbara Parker-Bell and the FSU Art Therapy graduate students who helped in the Stars of Hope creative aid effort have reflected on their personal experiences while in Panama City, FL.

Dr. Barbara Parker-Bell noted, “All of the FSU Art Therapy Program volunteers who helped implement the project were moved by the physical and emotional toll that remains evident in the community 6 months following Hurricane Michael’s initial impact. Art therapy graduate students’ kind and compassionate support of art educators and students working to create messages of hope and resilience was outstanding.”

Heather Robbins states, “Stars of Hope was a memorable and humbling experience for me. I worked with about a hundred students at a school in Bay County that was affected by Hurricane Michael and had the opportunity to help the students share their messages of hope on their stars through painting. It was an experience I will never forget.”

Michelle Torrech Perez reflects on how valuable of an experience working with Stars of Hope was. Michelle emphasized the importance of going beyond the classroom and serving an affected community through the healing arts. As she has personal experiences with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Michelle says,

“I focused on immersing myself in that community’s reality and being as present as possible. Through my art therapy training and under the art teacher’s guidance, I allowed the 5th grade students to process their experience and explore, express, and share feelings of hope. Overall, most responded well to the teacher’s reflections, immersed themselves in the creative process, were receptive to my questions, comments, and/or feedback, benefited from working alongside their dear peers and felt satisfied with their work. After doing so through the colorful decoration of the wooden stars, the elementary students’ creations served to further disseminate such feelings of hope to others. Their resilience was inspiring, their art reflecting their readiness to continue onward and, hopefully, spreading such hope to their community.”

Emi Illig reflected on the incredible resiliency of the children affected and the unwavering support that the teachers provided despite losing some of their homes. Emi had the opportunity to help hang the Stars of Hope throughout the Panama City, FL community. Emi says, “hanging the stars allowed us to display the community’s hope, resilience, and bravery.”