Sunday, July 15, 2012
It all began over a lunch meeting in November 2010. Dr. Vivian Nix-Early, COO of BuildaBridge, Danielle Dembrosky, Programs Administrator at that time of BuildaBridge and Julieane Ramic of Nationalities Service Center (NSC) discussed the possibility of providing BuildaBridge Classroom art classes to young refugees newly arrived in Philadelphia. NSC is a refugee and immigrant resettlement agency, serving almost 300 persons annually in Philadelphia. Having identified the idea to address the mental health needs of newly arrived refugees, NSC and BuildaBridge joined two other refugee resettlement agencies and two other family health agencies that had also identified this same idea at the same time. The idea to collaborate was born, leading all agencies to collectively write a grant proposal in January 2011 to the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services (DBH) for a project that would provide mental health resources to these communities. The proposal was accepted and the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (PRMHC) was formed. Four months of intense planning led to the start of Year 1 programming in South Philadelphia with the Bhutanese and Burmese communities in addition to the development of other mental health tools to be utilized by other collaborative members.
One year later, BuildaBridge is pleased to announce the completion of PRMHC’s Year 1, having served a total of seventy-six refugees through art therapy groups from the Bhutanese, Burmese and Iraqi communities. Combined with other collaborative partners such as the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, Women Against Abuse, Jefferson Family Medicine and Pennsylvania’s Department of Migrant Education, the PRMHC served well over one hundred refugees including children, parents and other community members. The key elements of the BuildaBridge Classroom - structure, rituals and boundaries, proved to be the driving forces behind how and why the refugees accomplished the goals of identifying adjustment strategies that build on the strengths of their communities in promoting success, strength, recovery and resiliency in a new culture.
Five art therapists and teaching artists, five volunteer assistants and three case aides from each of the refugee communities conducted bi-weekly art therapy groups. Online assessments completed after each group allowed the therapists and collaborative staff to continually evaluate the progress of the refugees in their acclimation to the new environment on both a personal and community level. The results of Year 1 programming including consistent refugee attendance at the groups, the development of children’s internal loci of control and a high interest from the refugees for art-making has prompted the collaborative to continue into Year 2 programming.