Art therapy helps children heal after Moore tornado

With each brush stroke, children in Moore express how they feel three months after the May 20th tornado, including Haley Bemish, a sixth grader at Briarwood Elementary.

As Haley painted her t-shirt at Sunday afternoon's art therapy session, she wrote Briarwood Elementary on the front, and "I Support Plaza Towers Elementary" on the back.

"My little brother goes to Plaza," she explained, "and I just thought it would be nice to support Plaza too, for the kids who had died."

Related: Photographs from the art therapy event.

Haley's mother, CJ Unsell, picked her up from Briarwood five minutes before the tornado hit. She still remembers how she felt the first time she saw her school in ruins.

"I just cried and didn't know what to do," Haley recalled, "I didn't know if my friends were still alive or not."

Haley's friends are all safe, but memories from May 20th are still fresh in their mind.

"My teacher said 'put your heads down, put your heads down,'" said Brianna Mendonca, a fifth grader at Briarwood and friend of Haley's.

As children heal after the devastation in Moore, it's not always easy for them to talk about their experience.

"It's been tough," said Unsell, "but I think the schools have made a great effort to make it easy for them to come back to school."

Aside from resources at school, organizations like Individual Artists of Oklahoma (IAO) have stepped in to help.

"The act of art making is so healing," said Kay Foster, an art therapist, "it allows human beings to recreate themselves."

Foster drove in from Lawton to volunteer with IAO. She says as children make t-shirts at Moore Public Library, they gain a voice.

"The way art therapy works is the art often speaks for the person," said Foster.

For Haley and Brianna, the message is simple-- peace, love, and hope for their school and community.

"It's just something to show people that I really care," said Haley.

IAO provided this workshop to all children in Moore at no cost. To learn more about IAO, visit their website. Watch our slide show from the event here.

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