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Art therapy helps victims of violence at Women's Resource Center

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Art Therapy WRC

Sister Barbara Kukla leads an art therapy class Wednesday, April 30, 2014, at the Woman�s Resource Center. / Gregory Shaver,

RACINE — “I’ve had a hard time lately,” one woman said, quietly sitting down at the shelter’s kitchen table covered with magazines and colorful paper.

She’d been having flashbacks to the day she was raped and had been staying at the Women’s Resource Center for the last three weeks.

Sister Barbara Kukla, a volunteer who comes to the shelter weekly for art therapy, let her know she is there to help. The art therapy session she leads is one of multiple types of therapy available to the women who have gone through so much in their lives and are working to recover from the lingering emotional scars that are hard to heal.

In explaining the weekly project to the women, Kukla, a Dominican sister who has a master’s degree in art therapy, told the women in her group: “Look inside yourself and see what strengths and what good qualities you have already.”

That week, the project was to cut out images from magazines and make collages to show how their strengths can help them work toward their goals.

They mostly worked in silence, but chatted a little about cooking and some of the women who will be moving out soon. Then they took turns around the table showing their artwork. For some it’s too hard to share, but others openly explained what they made.

One woman’s collage reads: “Say good morning to a good day.”

“My past kind of haunts me,” said the mother of two young children, having recently left an abusive relationship. The collage, she explained, is “something to tell me to have a good day.”

Another woman showed an image of a ray of sunshine she was coloring. “My grandmother called me sunshine,” she said. “I have a ray of sunshine in me and as long as I open myself up and allow my rays to shine, it helps me feel better.”

The woman who said she was having a hard time lately, on her turn, showed her collage with a cutout lightning bolt, an elephant and an American Indian on a horse with the words “strength” and “warier” written on top.

“If I wasn’t a strong person I wouldn’t still be here,” she said.

“I’m usually happy and outgoing,” she said. But after a flashback occurs, where she relives her rape as if she is in a horrible movie, she often reverts back to a childlike state.

At least while doing art therapy, she explains, for that time period, “it takes all your concentration so you forget about everything else for that short amount of time.”

The physical scars are gone, she said, but as for the emotional trauma, “it’s always there.”

While it’s something she knows she is going to struggle with for a long time, as long as she is at the Women’s Resource Center, she said, “they stand behind me and push me along and provide hope everything will be OK because there is a safe place for me.”

And even after she moves out, she said, she knows they will continue to provide support through counseling such as art therapy and whatever help they can provide.

Tomorrow: Meet Athena

Athena, a dog in training, is one of the newest members of the Women’s Resource Center family and helps comfort victims of violence. She is being trained to go to court and provide comfort to witnesses. Read about Athena in Monday’s Journal Times.


A day at the Women’s Resource Center

Last month Stephanie Jones, a Journal Times reporter, spent a day at the Women’s Resource Center in Racine. It’s a center that provides a safe shelter and counseling services to help victims of domestic violence. No one line can summarize what victims have gone through. Some have recently fled abusive relationships and they are staying at the center for safety. Others were referred to the center from the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization and were homeless. Many suffer from mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from past abuse or rape.

One of the biggest lessons the women shared was that even after the physical scars disappear, the emotional ones remain long after and never really go away. Art therapy is just one form of therapy offered to the victims, whose names are not included in the story for their protection and privacy.

How to seek help or give help

The Women’s Resource Center has a 24-hour crisis line people who need help can call.

The number is 262-633-3233.

The center relies on community support to keep its doors open and gratefully accepts any size monetary donations, large or small. Donations can be made online at through PayPal or checks can be mailed to WRC, PO BOX 1764, Racine, WI 53401.


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