Hope Academy: A Vision for Moving from Victim to Victor

In the wake of Katrina, the 2005 Hurricane that destroyed massive areas of the Gulf coast—most notably New Orleans, but also many other communities—the government has promised jobs and education for many displaced—many now homeless—residents. This presents an opportunity to re-imagine the process of recovery, healing, community involvement, job training and career development.

Traditional ways of handling job training and education seems to be insufficient to the task at hand. There are many contributing factors particular to this situation that call for a new, creative, innovative, and holistic response. The survivors of Katrina are undeniably candidates for symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Their recovery from disaster and loss requires more than just job training and education. Help needs to be offered within a context of healing and hope. For some who have fallen into the cracks of the intergenerational dependence on welfare, this plan offers the carefully coordinated steps into a new life.

We propose a project on a small scale as a trial for development and refinement that can be replicated as part of the redevelopment of destroyed locations. It is also a program that can be imported into any community that requires rehabilitation, given that the basic components and structure are met.

The arts have been seen as a tool for therapy for several decades now. This plan integrates therapies for PTSD, dependency, loss and grief; community development, occupational, vocational and educational assessment, training and preparation; and transition assistance, with a focus on creativity as a vehicle for self expression, self discovery, and personal growth.

The central piece is a large building in a depressed area that can be renovated to accommodate the various components. The building must house offices for staff:

  • Therapists
      • art: painting, music, dance, ceramics, writing
      • occupational
      • physical
      • motivational
  • Counselors
      • grief work
      • child and family issues
      • emotional resolution
      • dependency issues
  • social workers
      • child well-being
      • family cohesion
      • personal recovery plan
      • resource identification
  • career development
      • assessment (Myers Briggs, Strong Inventory, Motivational Appraisal, etc)
      • skill transfer training
      • resume development
      • educational direction
      • goal-setting guidance
      • placement networking
  • Professionals, practitioners, and Interns (for demonstration, basic teaching, individual development, and referral of clients to a program ) There will be residencies, lectures, and open workshops as well as nominal-fee classes:
      • Artists, writers, and craftspersons
        • Mural, fine art, illustration  
        • Sculpture, assemblage, process
        • Fashion, clothing, weaving, design, jewelry
      • Financial advisors
      • Entrepreneurial training
      • Technicians—electrical, plumbing, computer, telecommunications
      • Mechanics—automotive   and appliance
      • Agribusiness—farming, dairy, greenhouse, florist
      • Designers—landscape, interior, architectural, graphic
      • Grant writers

The primary focus of the center would be on the arts as a starting point for people to experience the therapeutic aspects of art, but leading to explorations of creativity, skills, talents, and aptitudes.

One projected outcome would be the establishment of an outlet for artists to sell their work produced at the center. Much like a cooperative, individuals could sell small inventories of arts and crafts, and learn the rudiments of marketing. This would be accomplished both on site and via the internet. As a result, entrepreneurships would be generated on an ability-basis.

Although the benefits to many will be the definition and embarkation on new careers, the fundamental purpose will remain to provide a place for healing and recovery, through the development of skills and talents that strengthen emotions, the spirit, and the mind. We recognize that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a broadly encompassing syndrome, and for our purposes define Trauma as any condition that threatens life, health, sanity, security, and stability. It is meant to be universally accessible. When, if ever, the sick and wounded among us are healed, such a center would provide a place for any person to expand their own horizon of personal growth and thus should always provide a port for communication with the inner being.

Marcia Wisehoon
October 19, 2005