Staff Columnist

Supporting the arts program that supports our kids

Community members gathered Feb. 2 at the Eastbank Lounge in downtown Cedar Rapids for the 10th annual Tanager Place Expressive Arts Gala. Proceeds from the event, including a live auction, benefit the nonprofit’s unique and community-supported therapeutic arts children’s therapy program. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
Community members gathered Feb. 2 at the Eastbank Lounge in downtown Cedar Rapids for the 10th annual Tanager Place Expressive Arts Gala. Proceeds from the event, including a live auction, benefit the nonprofit’s unique and community-supported therapeutic arts children’s therapy program. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
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A few hundred people gathered on a recent Saturday night in downtown Cedar Rapids were introduced to an organization and a woman on a mission.

Despite the location and the already seemingly endless parade of presidential contenders, politics wasn’t the purpose behind the Feb. 2 gathering. Nor was religion, although there was definitely a do-gooder spirit at play.

Those who gathered at Eastbank Lounge came to support the Expressive Arts program at Tanager Place, and received inspiration from one area mother courageous enough to share her family’s story.

The mom, identified only as “Star,” wrote out the story of her son, who now thrives because of the help she and he received through Expressive Arts and other programming at Tanager Place. Her story was adapted for a spoken word and interpretive dance performance, which ended with very few dry eyes and a standing ovation.

“During his birth the nurses lost his heartbeat for a while,” Star wrote. “My mother is convinced that is the source of some of the struggles he has faced.”

As an infant, her son cried constantly, forcing his caregivers to sleep in shifts. He was soon diagnosed with allergies, lingering respiratory difficulties and other health issues. And “that was just the beginning of it.”

Developmental milestones were delayed and missed. He was very quiet and incredibly attached to his mother. Preschool wasn’t a possibility but, when the child turned 5, had to enter kindergarten. The calls from school personnel began, many describing aggressive behavior not seen at home. “I thought they were lying,” she wrote.

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Star felt like she was failing as a parent as she was coping with the end of her father’s life, near losing her job and close to dropping out of her final year of college.

“I did not know what was wrong with my son; he could not tell me. I became so upset at him, at the world, and together we had lots and lots of emotional issues.”

The family went to a hospital, only to be sent to their physician. The physician referred them to a behavioral health professional, but the waiting list was a year long. It was by chance the mom learned about Tanager Place, but she made the call and the family was scheduled for an evaluation and therapy session the following day.

Her son has undergone several types of therapy since the family found Tanager Place and initially began family and music therapy. In addition, some underlying physical problems were discovered and corrected.

It has been two years since Star has received a call from the school. She says her son is unique, loving, helpful, creative and capable.

“He wants to be an engineer and Batman, and the fact that I know all these things is because the interventions at Tanager Place have helped him to enjoy his life outside of home.”

It is one story that represents thousands, and that is the beauty of the work done at Tanager Place. Its innovative approach uses evidence-based treatment through programs such as Expressive Arts. And Expressive Arts specifically is made possible through the generous donations of this community.

Statistics show that 1 in 5 children are touched by a behavioral health challenge. These are illnesses — anxiety, depression and more — that can be treated by professionals.

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When children who have experienced trauma cannot find words, they can make music or draw pictures to show others what is on the inside.

For all of us, including children in need, this type of therapy is shown through research to slow breathing and lower blood pressure. It is a path toward healing, illuminated by board-certified therapists.

At the 10th annual Expressive Arts Gala, attendees learned that just $250 provides a scholarship for a child in the Expressive Arts program. Portions of the children’s artwork also are made available on greeting cards during the holidays. Cards with a Cause proceeds are funneled back into the program.

This year’s gala has come to an end, but it isn’t too late to support an evidence-based therapy program that relies on and gives so much back to this community.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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