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In October 2005, one month after the hurricane, teams of art therapists and volunteers began visits to Renaissance Village, FEMA’s largest trailer park near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Working in a tent, the artwork that emerged out of the chaos and tragedy documents trauma, loss, anger and depression as well as the survivors’ hopes and dreams for the future. Go to www.katrinaexhibit.org for more details.

The art also motivated Sister Judith Brun, CSJ to develop a structure to assist these children and, through her efforts and the support of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Community Initiatives Foundation was created.

To respond to the plight of over 150 households who faced homelessness when the FEMA trailer parks closed, CIF partnered with the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless (www.homelessinbr.org). This partnership developed into Neighbors Keepers and provided a safety net for these households who lacked the funding and the capacity to provide for themselves with a focus on rental assistance, emergency services, wrap-around case management, and therapy opportunities for adults as well as children with an emphasis on expressive therapies for the children who have lost so much, even for some, their childhood.

In 2010 Sister Judith partnered with National Heritage Academies to open Inspire Charter Academy, a K-8 school in the area where many Katrina families live.  Even in the first year at Inspire, it was clear that many of the children in this area come to school without the essential readiness qualities to succeed.  This compromised readiness, as well as the behavioral and mental health challenges burdening these children, limits them throughout their education and life.  To respond to these needs, CIF initiated a program to provide therapy and case management services at the school.

A lesson learned is that waiting until children of trauma and poverty start school is often too late to prepare them for success.  The research proving that traumatic events cause significant and long lasting chemical changes in the brain and body is a call to action.  These changes can impact behavior and make the child sick as well as increase the chances of serious medical problems in adulthood.  Early interventions can help children reduce their impulsivity and respond more calmly to provocation, yielding better choices now and reducing social as well as health risks for the future.

CIF is initiating a center for early childhood development to address early on the systemic causes of poor performance in school as well as negative implications for adulthood.  Students who experience adverse childhood experiences find it harder to sit still and follow directions.  As teenagers, they are more likely to be drawn to high-risk behaviors.  As adults, they often show increased aggression, impulsive behavior, weakened cognition, and an inability to distinguish between real and imagined threats.  These physiological effects of stress can be minimized or even reversed.  One way is changing the behavior of parents and caregivers to generate secure emotional attachments for children.  Various interventions and therapies have proven valuable; modeling best practices is effective.  The sooner the healthy responses are initiated, the better it is for the child.

 

 

 

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