JYS youth artists display healing work

Posted: Monday, November 01, 2010

Editor's note: Some names in this story have been changed to protect the anonymity of minors living at Johnson Youth Services.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Like many young boys, "Micha" is a bit undecided on his future plans. He wants to be a veterinarian - or a primatologist - or an animal photographer.

Like many young girls "Ashley" wants to go to college and make something of her life.

It doesn't matter what town they are from or what abuses they struggled through or what crimes they committed, but Micha will tell you he has anger issues and Ashley talks of being in trouble with the law, using drugs and not communicating.

What is important is that Micha and Ashley are trying to heal and have found a positive process through one of a variety of art therapy activities at the Juneau Youth Services.

"I know I have options now," Micha said, holding a corner of his life depicted on a work of art on display at The Canvas. "I can see and accept who I am now."

Said Ashley, also holding a corner of her soul laid bare upon cloth and left hanging from the ceiling of The Canvas lobby, "I have 'laugh' written here because it is one of my favorite things to do. I know now that life is good if you make it that way, to just live your life."

JYS kids participate in art projects daily, learning new media and techniques designed to communicate feelings and ideas.

On display at The Canvas through Tuesday, "A Winding Course" is the result of that participation. It was created so the youth could show others their journey through treatment, what it is like to come from a challenging past and have hope for the future, said Sydne Williamson, a JYS behavioral health associate.

As you enter The Canvas' gallery, a winding river path among the JYS artists' work represents a fluid path of hope, help, trust, safety and peace. Along the river's edge, hands reach up toward the artists' banners, reflecting each child's struggles and past, trying to grasp what was once theirs: drug addiction, neglect, abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome.

"They are the difficulties," Ashley said. "Living messed up, yearning for love, being abused and feeling helpless."

The banners ride safe above the hands though, signifying the youth are at a safe and peaceful place because they have asked for and accepted help.

Said Ashley, "I think the art is a really big positive distraction, you don't think about anything, you just feel relief."

Added Micha, "You express yourself and it is nice. I draw deeply and it releases my anger."

The JYS artist's banners flow in the air so youth can discover and experience a world free from danger, so they can build foundations and positive life skills and relationships.

"The banners speak to all of the positive influences and coping skills they now have," Williamson said. "And how they use them to live a sober and promising life. It is very exciting to share something that works."

JYS incorporates the Five Stages of Change in it's treatment regimen: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance. Micha is in stage 1 and just beginning.

"My hands are colored as rainbows," Micha said pointing to his art. "That is because I struggle with being (bisexual), so the rainbow hands remind me to be happy with who I am."

Ashley is in stage 5 and about to leave.

"I hope to maintain everything I have learned here," Ashley said. "I am getting ready to take a home pass and I am nervous, but I am excited too."

She continued, "I want to be someone who helps kids. I am going to go to college, maybe become a behavioral health associate or a social worker."

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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