When Katie Bortniak first heard about BeWellPBC mini-grants, she realized she could finally bring an idea she had for the homeless youth she serves to fruition. As a therapist at Vita Nova Inc., Katie sees trauma on a daily basis. Many youth struggle with anxiety and depression. Some suffer from PTSD. All were deeply affected by the lockdowns during COVID-19. They needed an outlet and Katie knew that offering experiences in the arts could help them heal.
“Our youth have high trauma and mental health needs,” Katie said. “It’s hard for them to talk about their trauma sometimes. Expressive arts help them share their feelings, develop communication skills, bond with others, and discover new talents.” From fall 2020 through June 2021, the youth ages 18-24 came together to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion through artistic expression, including poetry, drumming, painting and singing. The projects provided by talented facilitators from the community all led to a month-long celebration for Pride Month, a Juneteenth celebration, and the third anniversary of Vita Nova’s community center, the Spot.
Studies have shown that creativity reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, and it can also help process trauma. Katie witnessed for herself the impact of the arts programs on the youth and how they inspired introspection, resiliency and positive emotions. Painting became a powerful way to share the past, sharing a memory that was too painful to put into words. Poetry provided an opportunity for self-expression, and a community exercise, where youth wrote a poem together, became a moment of unity. Learning how to deliver monologues led to confidence-building. Additional outings to Pride Market at Bryant Park in Lake Worth and a concert sponsored by the Spady Museum at the Arts Garage in Delray Beach for Juneteenth gave the youth additional exposure and opportunities to explore the arts and how they impacted their mental health.
While many programs were delivered over Zoom, one of the in-person experiences that stands out for Katie was a traditional African drumming experience. As the drums started beating, youth became curious and slowly started coming out of their rooms, approaching one by one, until there was a group dancing and drumming together. “I have never seen kids smile so much,” said Katie. “Some were having a rough day and it really seemed to turn their day around.”
Looking ahead, Katie hopes to continue offering expressive therapies to Vita Nova’s youth and reaching out to facilitators to expand their programming. Most of all, she looks forward to the youth integrating their newfound love of the arts into their lives and mental wellness practices.
“A seed was planted,” Katie said. “My hope is that if they’re having a rough day, they will turn to something they learned and experienced through the program. And if they see someone else who needs help, they can share their skills with others.”