By Noel van Aartrijk, Virginia Tech
Finger painting across a blank canvas. Shaking glitter onto a carefully placed design of white glue. Opening a fresh pack of crayons and hunting for the perfect coloring book page. Arts and crafts bring on a feeling of nostalgia for most of us. It’s an age-old remedy for any feeling of burden, stress or worry.
There is a room in the University of Oklahoma Children’s Hospital where children battling cancer can experience this freeing, relieving feeling. A couple of Sundays each month, these children head to the Jimmy Everest Blood Disorders and Cancer Clinic for something other than their difficult treatments: the art therapy room.
The art therapy room holds special importance to the Oklahoma City Alumnae Chapter, as they have a long history with the hospital and their chapter’s philanthropy, the Oklahoma Children’s Cancer Association (OCCA).
Kacey Luster, Oklahoma State, who has volunteered in the art therapy room and been involved with the alumnae chapter since 2007, describes the room as a “magical place, filled with love, laughter and whimsical pieces of art and inspiration everywhere. There are huge picture windows and the sunlight always beams through. The room is so much more than paint and canvases; it gives these children an outlet for their emotions and thoughts.”
And although the art therapy room is in a place where the children are receiving difficult treatments, “There is always a lot of giggling and laughter,” Kacey says. “One of my favorites is when I asked a little girl what her favorite color was, to which she replied, ‘sparkle!’ She had glitter on everything, from her head to toe. I love that.”
Kay Tangner, Oklahoma, an alumnae chapter member who has volunteered for OU Children’s Hospital for the past 21 years, founded the art therapy room. Beyond arts and crafts, she said the room has offered “a support group for parents and patients, a place to meet new friends, pass the time or take their mind away.”
The Annual Auction
In addition to volunteering time and supplies to the art therapy room, since 2002 the alumnae chapter has sponsored Art with a Heart, an annual silent auction that benefits the OCCA. Held every February, the event features artwork made by children receiving treatment at OU’s Children’s Hospital. All funds raised by the Oklahoma City area alumnae are administered by the Tri Delta Children’s Fund. The alumnae chapter was recognized at Tri Delta’s 2012 and 2014 Conventions for Art with a Heart’s community outreach and philanthropic initiative.
The auction has created a beautiful relationship between the nearby collegiate chapters and the alumnae chapter. Anywhere from 75-150 collegiate volunteers assist in hosting the event each year, and the collegiate members purchase original pieces of art to line the halls of their chapter houses.
Art with a Heart even inspired a career change for Ashley Maxwell Simpson, Oklahoma State. In her collegiate years, Ashley was an Art with a Heart volunteer. Her volunteer work influenced her to change her career path to art therapy, and she went on to become the very first licensed art therapist hired by OU Children’s Hospital.
A Special Surprise
This past year, Art with a Heart artists were selected to create the ornaments for the State of Oklahoma Christmas Tree at the White House. As a state commissioned artist, Ronda Renner Roush, Oklahoma, was able to announce the news to the alumnae chapter. The ornaments the children created were red satin hearts encased in a clear globe, with a hand-painted word. “The words were meaningful in some way at this place in their young little journeys, which are challenged with having cancer. Some of the words were Faith, Love, Hope, Peace, Strength, Family and Friends,” Ronda said. The ornament’s red heart represented the Art with a Heart event and that Oklahomans live in the heartland of America.
In December, Kacey and Kay attended the 2014 National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C., on behalf of their Tri Delta sisters and the child artists. The states, territories and District of Columbia trees surround the National Christmas Tree, displayed for public viewing in President’s Park. “My favorite part was seeing the patients’ ornaments that were made in the ‘little art room that could’ in D.C.,” said Kay.
Kay hopes that both the Art with a Heart event and “little art room that could” will continue to grow in attendance and funding, and continue to involve both collegiate and alumnae members: “Just the name of the event and the way the members work together with each other and the patients is an example of our motto of steadfastly loving one another.”