Texas Girl Scout uses art for help with Harvey recovery
HOUSTON (AP) – A menacing hand reaches from above, pushing the small girl further underwater as she struggles for air.
The Houston Chronicle reports that’s what 12-year-old Izzy Plunkett drew last October in a family friend’s home, adopted as her own, as her family rebuilt their Hurricane Harvey-flooded home in Cypress.
“The house was out on a ranch in the middle of nowhere,” Izzy said. The homeschooled teenager was a long drive from the activities, such as theater rehearsal, that would have made life feel kind of normal. “But my art was always there with me.”
Izzy’s dark drawing became the inspiration for her Silver Award project, the highest award that middle school-aged Girl Scouts can earn. Her project culminated in a recent “Recovery through Art” event for other Girl Scouts at mosaic-filled Smither Park, where mental health advocates and community artists were on hand to encourage self-expression in the face of trauma or stress.
With fruit-shaped pins and a bow in her hair, enthusiastic Izzy, now 13, was there, too, kicking off the event with a short speech and teaching other girls how to draw at the sketching table.
“Sometimes, whenever something bad happens to you, like Harvey or a loss to the family, it can make you very upset, and you don’t want to keep that all inside of you,” Izzy said to the girls gathered around her at Smither Park. “That’s unhealthy, and you don’t want to be unhealthy.”
After making her case for mental wellness, members of Mental Health America of Greater Houston gathered the girls into a circle and urged them to reach out to trusted adults and friends when feeling depressed or overwhelmed.
“Harvey is just one example of something traumatic that ended up changing a lot of lives,” said programming coordinator Tilicia Johnson, who Mental Health America of Greater Houston brought in to lead post-Harvey workshops. “Through art, girls are able to find an avenue to heal their emotions and what they went through.”
Although other stressors can strike at any moment, Houstonians are most likely still in the throes of post-Harvey recovery. Disaster research has found mental health needs peak around 18 months after the traumatic event, and recovery can take anywhere from three to five years, said the chapter’s chief operating officer, Alejandra Posada.
On the local level, a survey conducted by the UT School of Public Health a few months after Hurricane Harvey found that nearly half of Harris County residents whose homes flooded during the storm were experiencing severe psychological distress. “In those first months after the disasters, it’s survival. I’ve got to make sure my family has a roof over their head,” Posada said. “Sometimes, it’s not until some of those basic needs are met that those emotions have room to come out.” Izzy, her older sister Abby, 16, and her parents at first coped with Harvey’s heavy floods by camping out upstairs – literally. Her father, Vince Plunkett, cut the house’s power, and they brought all sorts of camping equipment to the second floor. The Plunketts sanitized one bathroom and transformed it into a makeshift kitchen. A week later, they evacuated to a friend’s house in Hockley.
The experience of flooding, evacuating and tearing apart their home rattled Izzy, said her mother, Jennifer Plunkett.
“She shut down verbally, and art kind of pulled her out,” Plunkett said. “It got her talking about how she felt.”
That started with an activity called Inktober, in which artists across the country vow to make one original drawing every day of October. Izzy followed a list of prompts as inspiration for her sketches, and in response to one, she drew a girl being pushed underwater by an oppressive hand.
“She drew this picture, and when I first saw it – it hit me,” Jennifer Plunkett said. “It was very hard to see her drawing that.”
With encouragement from her family, Izzy recreated her drawing with watercolors and entered it into a children’s mental health-related art contest organized by Mental Health America of Greater Houston. She won first place, which came with a scholarship for art classes at the Museum of Fine Arts – Houston’s Glassell School of Art.
A few months later, the family visited the mosaic-covered Smither Park, a project of the Orange Show where a variety of Houston artists have crafted small sections of the walls, pavilion and picnic tables into creations of their own imaginations. Izzy was captivated, and she got permission from the park to create a mosaic at the base of a park lamp post.
Next, she gathered tiles, plates and other ceramics damaged by the storm’s flooding from more than 20 neighbors and used them to bring her watercolor drowning girl to life.
The girls who attended Izzy’s event on Nov. 17 got to contribute to the Orange Show project, too, as volunteer artists helped them break apart recycled plates and plaster them to a new section of the wall.
Girls ran between stations trying their hand at all kinds of art – playing guitar, painting, writing poetry, drawing, watercolors, and even pin-making.
Two attendees, sisters Katelyn and Sophia Lowe, ages 9 and 12, spent a while with Izzy as they sketched, and she taught them how to draw anatomically correct human forms. The sisters had to evacuate their home during Harvey-related flooding, too, as neighbors pulled them to dry land. The experience wasn’t a good one.
“It was very stressful, and it was hard to think that things were going to get better,” Sophia said. “We moved into my dad’s apartment for a few months while the house was being fixed, but we weren’t sure how we were going to afford things.”
Sophia said she coped with the stress through drawing, which is why she was excited to go to “Recovery through Art.”
“We learned a lot in the circle,” she said. “A lot of emotional intelligence was gained, and as an artist, I think I learned a few things too.”
Another scout in Izzy’s troup, 13-year-old Kate Law, said she already sees a therapist sometimes, and she knows about mental illnesses and how to cope with them, but she said it was still nice to see that others her age are learning and talking about those issues.
Instead of drawing or painting, though, Kate said that when she’s sad or overwhelmed, she opens her door to feel better.
“Just going outside and saying, ‘Look at all these nice things around me. Things aren’t as bad as they seem,’” she said.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, www.houstonchronicle.com
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