2003-04-12 / Community

SJEH Hosts Student Art Exhibit

By Miriam Rosenberg, Contributing Editor
SJEH Hosts Student Art Exhibit By Miriam Rosenberg Contributing Editor

SJEH Hosts Student Art Exhibit

By Miriam Rosenberg, Contributing Editor

Therapists Shelly Ginis, Dena Leigh Forman and Leslie Butera stand with some of their "young artists" who took part in the exhibit.Therapists Shelly Ginis, Dena Leigh Forman and Leslie Butera stand with some of their "young artists" who took part in the exhibit.

Like the adults, the children of the Rockaways were badly affected by the tragic events of 9/11 and the crash of Flight 587 in November 2001. Project Liberty and The Greater New York Hospital Fund are collaborating to help the youngsters of our community find ways to release their feelings. "Wishes and Secrets of American Youth," a scheduled one-week art exhibit in the lobby of St. John's Epis-copal Hospital, showcased some of the work that has been done with the youth of the community. A formal opening of the exhibit took place on March 27.

"We try to give the kids an open forum to try to express their feelings and emotions regarding their anxieties toward 9/11 and the crash of Flight 587, as well as many other issues through our work and through various mediums so that they can feel that they have a safe place to come and talk and enjoy themselves, and at the same time they get a lot out of the program." said Dena Leigh Forman, who is one of the therapists who works with the children.

Forman, of Project Liberty, works with Shelly Ginis and Leslie Butera from The Greater New York Hospital Fund.

"We asked our young artists to create something that could be anonymous and something they could feel free about," explained Ginis about the artwork. "This is the culmination of, not just asking them to do this - but, to discuss what people wrote and how many people their age felt the same."


The pink heart on this NYPD shirt is by Benita Lachner's son Jared. The Lach-ners live on Beach 131st Street where Flight 587 crashed.The pink heart on this NYPD shirt is by Benita Lachner's son Jared. The Lach-ners live on Beach 131st Street where Flight 587 crashed.

American flags, shirts and pants were adorned with, mostly anonymous, greeting cards containing the thoughts of the young people who took part.

""We wanted to express ourselves so everybody can see them," said Steph-anie Fuchs, a fourth grader from PS 43. "Some are wishes that we want to have or secrets we have never told anybody."

Katherine Fuchs, Stephanie's older sister, had a card attached to one of the tee-shirts hanging in the hospital's lobby.

"My aunt was actually in the building on 9/11, but she got out," said Katherine. "I knew numerous people that were in the building at the time, and I just thought that one wish would be for world peace. That was one way I could express myself through what happened on 9/11."


Shanelle Cummings and Jalessa Gilbert dance to an African number called 'Esclave.'Shanelle Cummings and Jalessa Gilbert dance to an African number called 'Esclave.'

Looking at an NYPD shirt that her son Jared contributed to, Benita Lach-ner explained what Jared saw when Flight 587 crashed and how Project Liberty is helping her son.

"We saw the explosion on 131 Street," said Lachner, whose family lives on that Street. "We were just coming back to our house when it happened. When we got there we saw the tail of the plane floating out of the sky. It was very traumatic."

Project Liberty reached out to her family after the first anniversary of the crash.

"He's been going to this group since November, and its helped him a lot with his trauma," said Lachner. "He had severe siren trauma and was very frightened of fire and smoke.


Stephanie Fuchs wish for world peace is displayed on this tee shirt.Stephanie Fuchs wish for world peace is displayed on this tee shirt.

"Jared is representing, with what is written on the shirt, his feelings as a 131 Street resident, he was very frightened that day."

Robyn Johanson said the shirt she helped paint is a memorial to those who died.

"We made it for, if somebody they knew died, they can always look at this and remember them," said Robyn.

Shanelle Cummings, an eight grader, used a pair of pants as her canvas to express her feelings that the towers are gone, but not forgotten. In addition, along with Jalessa Gilbert, she performed two danceAfrican-inspired numbers at the exhibit.


Pauline Cummings and her son Malik and daughter Shanelle.Pauline Cummings and her son Malik and daughter Shanelle.

Project Liberty started after 9/11. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds it, and of the 78 program sites citywide St. John's is the only one in the Rockaways.

"It provides immediate in-home crisis intervention counseling for those affected by the World Trade Center and, of course, Flight 587," said Nat Etrog, the Director of Outpatient Programs for the Department of Psy-chiatry at St. John's. "The object of the program is to reach out, because many people who have post traumatic stress disorder do not call for help. So, our mandate is to go out into the community and try and help in the community. Its really been very successful."

About the exhibit, Etrog said, "You can see the investment of the youngsters and the staff. It has really helped families and the children. Most of these children lost loved ones in the World Trade Center, and it's a way of helping them to really deal with the lost."

Etrog and Dr. Ronald Brenner (St. John's St. John's Hospital Director of Psychiatry), are discussing the possibility of expanding the program to include families of military personnel currently serving in the Iraqi War. For now the Project Liberty program is funded through this August, and it is expected it will be extended for an extra year.

Project Liberty operates out of the St. John's Community Mental Health Center. To get in touch with Project Liberty call 718 869-8400 or 718 869-8822.


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