Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New faces, new beginnings

202 - The number of refugees, immigrants and aslyees who participated in BuildaBridge programming during 2014.  

112 - Adults
90 - Children
19 - Artists engaged

Over 75% of participants were new to BuildaBridge programming this year and came from over ten countries.  The art-making experiences in a community context allow participants to build bridges between their culture and those of others; communicate their stories; share experiences and challenges and most importantly, find the resiliency and hope for for a new beginning here in the U.S.

Check out highlights from 2014:

Bhutanese Elders Story Mural
Videos of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo
Refugee Employment and Advancement Program
Friendships form at Hopeful City exhibit
Burmese Chin and Karen children find unity
The Talking Turtle
Bridging the Cultural Divide through Art

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Painted Mural speaks for a Refugee Community

On a chilly November evening more than 30 people gathered at the mural exhibit opening celebration on the fourth floor of the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia. As you walked through the lobby, a beautiful and colorful mural on the wall catches your eye. “We want to tell our story. We want our grandchildren to know our story. We want that to be preserved.” This quote echoes the wish Bhutanese refugee elders have for their children and for the Philadelphia community - sharing their history and culture through this mural.  A few elders also expressed that they hope their mural will be an inspiration to other refugee communities in Philadelphia to do the same through art - communicate their history, cultural, journey and hope for the future

Kerenza Reid, Project Coordinator from Nationalities Services Center for the Philadelphia Partnership Resilience (PPR) opened the event with background information about the project and a few words of appreciation with pauses in between for interpretation to the elders. Danielle Bossert, BuildaBridge’s Refugee Project manager also shared her experience working with the Bhutanese refugee elders and thanked the artists that led the project, Julie Rosen and Stevie French for the many hours they spent with the elders and preparing the mural.  Two of the elders, through the interpreter, shared experiences from their life in Bhutan, thoughts on the process of creating the mural and what they hope to see in the future. There was pride in the way they spoke about their experience, one even coming prepared with his speech notes on a sheet of paper.  The audience and their peers clapped after hearing each momentous and moving speech.

The mural is on exhibit at Nationalities Services Center, 1216 Arch Street, 4th Floor, Philadelphia.  A copy print of the mural will be on display at the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia in South Philadelphia where the BuildaBridge art classes were held and where many Bhutanese community members come for other meetings, events and classes.

View Photos of the event.

Many thanks to the Corner Bakery Cafe for their generous donation of fruit, cheese and vegetable trays for the event!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Join us in celebrating the Journey!

Join us in celebrating the journey of Bhutanese refugee elders!

Friday November 14th, 5:30 pm-7:30 pm
Nationalities Service Center
1216 Arch Street, 4th Floor, Philadelphia
"We want to tell our story. We want our grandchildren to know our story. We want that to be preserved."

Join the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience in celebrating a mural created by Bhutanese refugee elders residing in South Philadelphia!  BuildaBridge Artists-on-Call led the group of 15 Bhutanese refugee elders over the past 3 months in creating the mural with vibrant colors and fabrics reminiscent of their culture. The mural depicts the elders' lifestyle in Bhutan, their flight into Nepal where many spent almost 20 years in refugee camps and their journey to Philadelphia.

We invite you to join us in honoring the elders' artwork and their goals for the mural in an exhibit opening celebration on Friday November 14th from 5:30 pm-7:30 pm at Nationalities Service Center located at 1216 Arch Street, 4th Floor, Philadelphia, PA.  For questions, please call (215) 842-0428 or email

Sunday, October 12, 2014

We want our grandchildren to know our story

"We want to tell our story.  We want our grandchildren to know our story. We want that to be preserved."

The quote above from the Bhutanese elders living in South Philadelphia is the foundation of an art group that assists elders in creating a mural that tells their story.  As part of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience Collaborative, BuildaBridge artists Stevie French and Julie Rosen lead a group of elders in processing their histories through art.  Julie Shaw, of the Philadelphia Daily News recently highlighted the group. Read her article here.  View photos of the group here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

I AM special and kind

Participants in BuildaBridge's Saturday art groups, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, wrote "I AM" poems their first day of group.  On the last day of group, three participants recited their poems before a camera.

The "I AM" poem provided prompts for participants to reflect on their individual qualities, characteristics, beliefs, hopes and dreams.  The accompanying art-making experience on that first day involved the creation of an individual mandala which then became part of a group mandala.  Self-exploration through various visual art mediums was the focus for the remaining five groups, assisting participants in developing their identity in a new culture and in community with one another.  Groups were held at Souderton Mennonite Church from July to September.

See the other two videos here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Conquering that first scary mark!

Every artist is familiar with the paralysis brought on by the challenge of a blank canvas; the smooth, white, pristine expanse daring you to put down your first mark.  Today, our group of Bhutanese Elders may have experienced this for the first time. They faced it, fought with it and conquered it.

Week after week, I am struck and inspired by the smiles and spiritual calm of our group members who have endured and thrived through so much hardship in their lives. While sharing their stories through drawn symbols and words, they have given us hints as to what underlies their ability to live in gratitude and grace. This strength and character, however, did not make them immune to the fear of the seemingly small challenge before them. When we announced that this was the day they would start their mural, actually putting colored marks onto the large canvas (mind you traced ones over our penciled sketch), they unanimously declined.  There was a long pause and then a rash of heated Nepalese flying back and forth with the translators;  “It’s one thing to draw and paint on paper! Our hands are too shaky! We do not know how to draw or paint.” They insisted that we, the experienced artists, should take over.  From the start, many of them made it clear to us previously that they had never held a pencil, marker or paintbrush in their lives let alone been put to the task of creating a mural, so their wavering confidence was no great surprise and one might even say was warranted. But what we were caught off guard by was the degree of their resolve to pass the task of executing their vision off to us.   Of course, we refused.  Gently. And with a good amount of back and forth, we assured them (or at least tried to) that they could, in fact, do this. We convinced them (again, tried) that it was of the utmost importance that their marks, their personal expressions show up on this canvas that would represent them.

Initially, they wanted this piece for their community house, but they have since advocated for having it travel to represent who they are and all that they have been through.  They wanted it to be right and beautiful.  They wanted it to be perfect!  On the plus side, their trepidation revealed a very deep investment in the project. But as teachers and facilitators, we knew that the mural had to be genuinely theirs.  Our task was to guide them through fear to trust themselves. Like anyone facing that white expanse, they were going to have to take the risks that art-making demands.

So as the fear in the room started to dissolve into resignation, we rolled the canvas out and they got to work.  At first, the pace was slow and careful, the lines shaky and thin.  But the more they did, the more they felt confident making color choices, making lines, making mistakes, making art! At a point, there was a detail that a few of them wanted to change-the huts for milled rice were separated from the workers threshing in the field. They erased and penciled in their own accurate versions of this part of their lives. Of course, the forms and details in this section are perhaps the strongest of the mural; stylistically unique and beautifully authentic! They clearly were invested and felt great about it.  The energy in the room got more and more active with ideas, original use of color and the interior focus that artmaking provides.
In the closing circle, we strongly reinforced their progression, complimenting them on their bravery and on their huge accomplishments of the day. Art is a different kind of scary, at times even painful. It can be enlivening, centering and inspiring.  The room was full with the triumphant experience of meeting, facing and appreciating these truths.

- Julie Rosen, Teaching Artist with the Bhutanese Elders group and BuildaBridge's PRMHC Community Relations Assistant

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

PRMHC Year 3 Report

BuildaBridge completed Year 3 activities of the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative on June 30th, 2014.  Funding continued from the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services, the Sheila Fortune Foundation and Union Benevolent Association.  Seventy-six refugees from three different populations were served during the past year.

Read the full Year 3 Report.

BuildaBridge would like to honor and thank the following artists who have contributed to the success of the Refugee Project for at least two or more years:

  • Celeste Wade
  • Natalie Hoffmann
  • Julia Crawford
  • Christine Byma
  • Jessica LaBarca
  • Robert Kelleher
  • Stevie French
  • Danielle Owen
  • Liz Green

For full biography and current position information, see the Personnel page.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What would your mask communicate?

As part of Nationalities Services Center's (NSC) Refugee Employment and Advancement Program (REAP), BuildaBridge teaching artists Francesca and Stevie provide weekly therapeutic art groups that seek to teach English, occupational and life skills to participants through drama, movement and the visual arts.  For the past two weeks, participants, who are adult refugees from numerous countries in the English as a Second Language (ESL) class, created masks out of paper mache and decorative ornamental items.  During the most recent class, participants were asked to express a movement of their mask (shown in the photo above) and describe their mask in written English.  In their written descriptions, with prompts from the teaching artists, their masks communicated participants' cultures, personal identities and journeys; they communicated their hopes, feelings and dreams.  This exercise was also practice for reading and writing in English.

Drama exercises are incorporated throughout the group to allow for individual creative expression and the development of teamwork.  Pass the clap is used as the group's opening and closing ritual -- turn to the person on your right, both of you clap at the same time.  Then that person passes the clap to the next person and so on until it goes all the way around the circle.  More recently, participants engaged in an exercise where one person acted as the 'boss' and another, the 'interviewee'.  Once the interview was finished, the group provided feedback to the actors, and discussed what they learned about good interviewing techniques which they will then utilize in a real interview.

This ESL class, part of the REAP program, seeks to assist refugees in advancing their occupational skills in the hopes of finding employment.  BuildaBridge is a part of this process, facilitating art-making experiences that allow participants to explore their identities, hopes and dreams; and teach key life and occupational skills as refugees transition to life in the United States.

For images from the most recent class and participants' artwork, see the photo album.

For more information on REAP, visit NSC's website.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Telling their story through art
Click the image to see more photos

Bhutanese elders are telling their story through art.  Using a variety of art mediums, including painting as shown in these photos, the elders are working towards the creation of two permanent pieces that will communicate their journey and message to the next generation.  As part of BuildaBridge's contracted partnership with Nationalities Services Center for the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, BuildaBridge artists provide twice monthly art classes for the elders in South Philadelphia. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Making connections through a Hopeful City

      The Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR) has been pleased to partner with BuildaBridge International since July 2013 in the provision of therapeutic arts groups for immigrant and refugee survivors of torture for the past year.  Through this partnership, we have been able to utilize the healing power of the arts to serve new Americans migrating from Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and others.

       Many of our clients arrive in Philadelphia without family or friends in the region.  They balance the demands of learning English, searching for and starting their first jobs in the United States, attending to medical needs, acculturating, and raising children.  Many of them are struggling with the emotional impact of their torture and trauma history, and the grief and loss associated with forced migration and fleeing persecution.  Torture survivors may experience isolation stemming from feeling as though others cannot understand the experiences they survived, a decreased sense of safety and trust in their environment, or depression.    Others are eager to begin forming new relationships, but as newcomers don’t know where to begin meeting people or how to start engagement with their new community.  PPR’s partnership with BuildaBridge International has allowed us to open doors for immigrant survivors of torture to begin developing meaningful, lasting, and healthy relationships with others and their broader community.

The impact of BuildaBridge International’s interventions was clearly evident on a recent trip taken by PPR’s Women’s Group to view the “Defining a Hopeful City through Art” exhibit at City Hall.  A.R. and S.D. stand beside the amazing artwork of another PPR client (image above), depicting the joining of Iraqi and American cultures and on display as part of this fantastic exhibit. During our trip, A.R. and S.D. discussed their visions of a hopeful Philadelphia and the importance of bridging cultural divides as they build new lives here.  A.R. and S.D. had attended some of the same events, but had never really had an opportunity to connect.  This exhibit, and the fundamental question posed of what defines a hopeful city and subsequently what their own hopes were, allowed A.R. and S.D. to share and laugh with each other.  

     We were made profoundly aware of the impact BuildaBridge’s interventions have had in the lives of PPR participants when a former client who had relocated to another city made outreach to his PPR case manager when he was visiting Philadelphia.  He had called to inquire if there were BuildaBridge groups on the weekend of his visit, and if he could attend.  He shared that he wanted to come back because PPR and BuildaBridge were like family, and while he liked his life in his new city, it was important for him to reconnect with his family while he was in Philadelphia.

When talking about services available to survivors of torture and war related trauma, it is all too easy to focus solely on the traumatic event.  BuildaBridge and PPR’s partnership helps to shift the dialogue to highlight the resilience so prevalent in the survivors we work with.  Through BuildaBridge, we are able to able to observe the process of recovery and healing as it happens – phone numbers exchanged between clients as new friendships are formed, parents and children dancing together, smiles that are widely given upon greeting, and people returning week after week to share in the art-making experience together.  We see a community of support and resilience develop, nurtured by the therapeutic arts.  

--Kerenza Reid, Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, Project Coordinator 
Nationalities Services Center

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Creating Healthy Boundaries

Over the course of one's lifetime, the boundaries of one's home, work and social environments will shift based on the choices one makes personally and professionally. 
For a refugee, personal, professional and social boundaries are often out of their control. 
  • A refugee may not be able to decide on the country into which they flee.
  • Though a refugee may hold an advanced degree in their country of origin, they may not be able to pursue a career in that sector because of the language barrier
  • Upon arrival, the location of their new home is often determined by the refugee resettlement agency handling their case.
  • A refugee often experiences the loss of social networks, anxiety regarding the uncertainty of finding new connections and the fear of isolation in the new country.

How does BuildaBridge programming seek to combat these at-risk factors and build protective factors among incoming refugee populations?

By providing culturally specific art therapy and therapeutic art-making groups in the community context for homogeneous and mixed refugee population groups.  These programs help refugees identify adjustment strategies based on the strengths of their communities in promoting success, strength, recovery and resiliency in a new culture.

Since 2011, BuildaBridge has provided such art groups to over 170 refugees from four countries, assisting them through the arts in acculturating to their new environment and developing healthy boundaries for their personal and professional lives.

Since June 2014, BuildaBridge has served 61 new refugees participating in five different art groups.  BuildaBridge artists, through art-making experiences that focus on academic, social, artistic and character development skills, assist refugees in re-building and creating healthy boundaries in their new environment.

Summer attendance June 2014 to present:
Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience women and children’s group:  15
Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience mixed adults:  6
Congolese refugees:  8
Bhutanese refugee elders:  15
REAP (Refugee Employment and Advancement Program):  17

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Investing in Transformation

To invest:  to give or devote time, talent or finances for a purpose or to achieve something
To transform:  to change in condition, appearance or character

BuildaBridge's mission is to engage creative people and the transformative power of art making to bring hope and healing to children, families, and communities in the contexts of crisis and poverty. 

BuildaBridge envisions a world where all children are resilient, experience self-efficacy, and have a vision for their future. BuildaBridge dedicates its resources to building the capacity of creative adults and local communities to fulfill this vision.

For the second year in a row, The Sheila Fortune Foundation and the Union Benevolent Association have both invested in the transformation that has been occurring in the lives of the refugees BuildaBridge serves through the Refugee Project. Since April of 2013, the Refugee Project has served 110 refugees, 91 of whom were children.  Each child attending BuildaBridge groups learns key life lessons through art as metaphor, in addition to academic, artistic, social and character development skills.  Refugee children are also developing their identity in this new culture through art-making experiences that encourage:  1) the exploration of individual creative expression; 2) collaborative art-making, sharing of cultures and dialogue; 3) the child to love and accept themselves; 4) the affirmation of the culture from which they came and the future they envision for themselves; and 5) the ability to express themselves through art without the use of words.  Both the Bhutanese and Burmese refugee children's groups explored the life cycle of butterflies this year as a metaphor for transformation.  The caterpillar to the cocoon, chrysalis to the butterfly, and the flight of the of the most vivid and clear illustrations of transformation for children to understand and apply to their own lives.

BuildaBridge wishes to recognize and thank the following for investing in the transformation of the lives of the refugees we serve for a fourth year:

The Sheila Fortune Foundation - $3,500 grant
Union Benevolent Association - $2,000 grant

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Discovering the Power of Unity

1.  Collage of children's work

Coming into the space of the closing for the Burmese children’s art group, I am surrounded by color and evidence of the creative activity from the term. While the work adorning the walls represents marks, choices and the creative meanderings of each child in attendance, a theme guided with intention and skill by our teaching artists defines the overarching take-away; the power of unity. Folded and bejeweled butterflies flutter around the room metaphorically proclaiming the potential for transformation. Uniquely drafted configurations of interchangeable body segments echo the practice of developing language skills and body-awareness.  A large collage hangs in evidence of a multi-stage exploration of color and design to create a meadow-scape.  But as the class discusses each project on this culminating day, what emerges as the common link between the projects is the progression from focusing on individual pieces to a weaving together of each person’s work to create  a rich and beautiful collaborative whole. As students reflect on this process, a recognition of the whole as greater than its parts emerges. Children talk about how much more efficient and how much more fun it was when they came together.

2. One piece from the collage
After the celebration, when I ask the instructors to share their thoughts about the class, Bethany Stiltner pulls out a photograph that captures it’s progress perfectly; the instructors had presented the group with a framed collage (Image 1) in which they had pulled together statements made and small works created by each of them during the first few weeks of the term. The children eagerly huddled around it-joyful, excited and surprised by how great it was!  Any part of it on it’s own may have been passed off as insignificant or even forgotten, but together, the piece represented an experience of community. The power of that revelation was palpable. Natalie Hoffman, who has been working with them over the span of three years noted how much their progress as a group echoed the sentiment of this moment. “They have grown so much… in their level of comfort with each other, in the way they now help and support each other and in their ability to work together and function beautifully as a unified group.”

3. Child eager to enter the classroom
As a newcomer to this class, this reality was in clear evidence at the get go when I arrived early.  I found a group of children on the corner, eagerly waiting to get in. Several of them stood peeping through the door to check in on their space. Upon entry, with the teachers yet to arrive, they scurried around readying the classroom with mats and nametags, searching for the BuildaBridge Classroom Motto and Rules, knowing they needed to go up.  They were proudly displaying their initiative and graciously inviting me to help them set up what was very clearly their space. They owned it and the rituals and expectations of the class and they owned them all together. I was in good hands, welcomed and guided by a community of young children who knew where they belonged and relished in that belonging as an important, evolving part of their lives in a place far from home.

--  Julie Rosen, BuildaBridge Community Relations Assistant & Teaching Artist

Monday, June 2, 2014

Rebuilding a Future

From L to R: Julie Teixeira, two PPR clients, Christine Byma, Rebecca Asch, NSC case manager Laura; seated row L to R: Jessica LaBarca, PPR client, Julia Crawford, PPR client

The Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR) Spring term concluded May 18th with a time of sharing, food and celebration of clients' accomplishments.  Clients in one group shared the Shoji lanterns they recently created while clients in the second group shared the art journals they created.  The Shoji lantern project is described below.

Shoji comes from Japanese architecture and is a wall, room divider, or door covered with translucent paper, allowing light to shine through. Shoji lanterns were used to light the front of temples and shines and were later used to provide light during tea ceremonies.  The Shoji Lantern project focused on two main themes, building and light. Building and emergent sub-themes such as patience, resiliency, and rebuilding were reflected in the art making process as group members were confronted with the challenge of creating a sound structure. The theme of light was made a profound appearance in the tea ceremony where group members were able to view the lanterns warm illumination. The Shoji Lantern project became a poignant metaphor describing the experience of migrating to a new land; how to leave an often complicated life behind and how to patiently rebuild your future. 

The PPR Summer term will re-start at the end of June. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Music introduced Burmese children's group

Music and movement are now incorporated into the Burmese refugee children's group creating a multidisciplinary art environment.  Lead Creative Arts therapist Natalie Hoffmann has a degree in Fine Arts - Painting and a Master's in Creative Arts Therapy.  Since the group started, children have engaged in various visual art-making experiences ranging from painting, collage-making and mapping activities.  Natalie found that the children were very quiet, shy and language differences seemed a barrier to their sharing of artwork. 

Artist-on-Call Liz Green joined the teaching team in September 2013 and has since incorporated chants and simple songs to assist the children in their transitions between art-making experiences. Children responded very well to this addition; the added structure to the transitions made them feel less chaotic and more ritualized.  Bethany Stiltner joined the team in April as the Assistant Creative Arts Therapist.  Bethany brings percussion instruments to each group for a music circle which is now a part of the welcoming ritual, a key aspect of the BuildaBridge Classroom Model.  Natalie has incorporated a movement/feeling circle as another element to the opening ritual activities where children express how they are feeling that day through a movement.  Natalie tracks the words and movements each child does each week as part of her assessment process. The creative talents each artist has now incorporated into the group has spurred the further development of children's individual creative expression.  This is why the BuildaBridge Classroom Model that includes a team-teaching approach with artists from various disciplines within a structured environment full of rituals helps refugee children find their identity in a new culture.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Talking Turtle and Why It Matters

“Look at my box!”

A young girl in BuildaBridge’s Refugee Project enthusiastically placed her newly painted inside-out box directly in front of me on the table from where I was observing the class.  The project of the month was about recycling and repurposing. The children, with the help of the teachers, had carefully taken discarded boxes, turned them inside out, glued them back into a box shape, and and were intently painting something they imagined.

“Oh, that is very interesting!” I encouraged.  “I looks just like a turtle.”

She smiled and nodded with pride.

“Does your turtle have a name?” I asked.

“This is Talkie the Turtle.”  She picked it up and held it toward my face.

“And what does the turtle do?” I asked.

“He talks.” She answered.

“And what does he say?”

“Talkie stuff!” She replied and quickly carried Talkie the Turtle back to the group to continue her painting.

Later in the evening I shared my conversation with Natalie Hoffman, Art Therapist and BuildaBridge Artist-on-Call Lead Teacher for the class. According to Natalie, the turtle is a theme for children in transition. She agreed to share her research conducted with children in foster care. Enjoy this informative piece.


by Natalie Hoffman (see footnote)

A major finding of [my] research was that for [some] children the turtle emerged as a symbol that adequately embodied many of the qualities of their experiences of insecure attachment and placement into foster care. As a symbol, turtles have several note-worthy connotations that are relevant to understanding the experiences of these children.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Japanese Shoji Lanterns

A discussion surrounding the word “rebuild” emerged. Is it to build again with new materials or does it suggest rebuilding again from the pieces that have fallen? On a quiet Sunday afternoon five individuals gathered around a table from four different countries, representing three different languages (4 if you’re counting dialect), and spanning three different generations.

Through our partnership with the Nationalities Service Center/Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (NSC/PPR) collaborative, art therapists have facilitated groups for about nine months that explore the past, present, and future for individuals who are immigrants. The past few weeks have been devoted to constructing Japanese Shoji lanterns, with a culminating tea ceremony. Patience, focus, and creative problem solving were just a few virtues challenged by this 3 dimensional project that prompted a lively discussion about selfless rebuilding for the sake of younger generations.

The question initially posed about the word “rebuild” soon became clear as every group member, including the facilitators, experienced their lantern crumble at some point. Maybe a piece was damaged in the wreckage but ultimately, the pieces were joined back together, oftentimes with a creative approach, reflecting a resilient structure.   -- Rebecca Asch, Assistant Creative Arts Therapist

Donate Now to support the Refugee Project.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Refugee Project by the Numbers, April 2014

Natalie Hoffmann & Bethany Stiltner show students the art experience

Artist on Call Liz Green assists students with their paint supplies
Since October 2013, 21 Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience clients have attended BuildaBridge art groups. 

BuildaBridge held focus groups in March 2014 with a new refugee population to determine if art-making experiences and groups are of interest to this population. 
18 attended the groups and voiced their interest in attending BuildaBridge groups this summer.

Out of the 10 total groups offered to Bhutanese children this year to date:
2 children have had perfect attendance
8 children attended at least 6 groups
3 new children joined this group last Fall

During the Fall 2013 6-week term offered to Burmese children:
2 children had perfect attendance
12 children attended four or more groups
The Spring term just re-started on April 10 and 6 new children joined this group!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hello, Hello, so happy to see you!

Ms. Julia Crawford engaging in the welcome song with children during a recent group.

The BuildaBridge Classroom model utilizes rituals, clear boundaries and structure to provide children a safe and creative space in which they can express themselves.  

One of the rituals the Bhutanese children's group does at the beginning of each group is a Welcome Song.  This ritual is predictable, and is done the same way each group.  Children expect and rely on this ritual.  It makes them feel safe.  It gives them an opportunity to focus on a task and on the teamwork of singing together.  This provides children an opportunity to focus on something immediately upon entering the group, putting aside anything else that may have been distracting from outside of the classroom.  

Check out the video of children singing this song.  

"Hello, hello, so happy to see you;
hello, hello, how do you do?;
Hello, hello, my name is Danielle;
Hello, hello and how about you?!"

See if you can sing along with the kids using the lyrics above!
Will you help us continue this ritual by considering an online donation to our Refugee Project?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cocoons of Paper Mache

Check out photos from our latest Bhutanese children's group this past Sunday.  Children started working on their cocoons out of paper extension of the lesson on Monarch butterflies, their transitions from a caterpillar to a butterfly and how we go through changes in life just like the butterflies.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bridging the Cultural Divide

After politely asking if he could say just one more thing during a Client Advisory Council meeting this morning, A.K, a participant in our therapeutic art groups offered through our partnership with the Nationalities Service Center/Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (NSC/PPR) collaborative, turned and reached back behind his chair. What came back up with his hand astounded us all.

Smiling, Mr. A.K presented our Director of Community Programs, Jamaine Smith with the above beautiful, meaningful work of Art. Mr. A.K, the creator of the piece, stated that the piece was a gift from all of the refugees served by BuildaBridge and the NSC/PPR and acts as a “thank you” for the work we are doing with not only his family (who were seated with him), but the countless other refugee, immigrant, and asylum seeking families we are honored to serve.

Living up to our name, Mr. A.K. stated BuildaBridge helped build a bridge between aspects of American culture and language, and that of his native country, Iraq. The green corner adornments represent Hope, one of the key components of BuildaBridge’s mission. The blue represents continued wishes for success and a bright future.

We honor Mr. A.K’s kindness, creativity, and recognition of the very essence of BuildaBridge-to bring hope healing to children, families, and communities living in contexts of crisis; as well as our commitment to foster community within a safe, creative space. We are grateful for and share this gift with the Nationalities Service Center and Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience collaborative, a team of passionate, committed individuals making a positive, practical impact on those they serve.
From L to R:  Mr. A.K.; Jamaine Smith, BuildaBridge Director of Community Programs; and Ms. Elisabeth McIntee, Nationalities Service Center

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Today is the day!

Today is the day that you can start helping refugees process their ROOTS through art-making experiences towards ROUTES full of hope and resiliency.  

Today marks the first day of BuildaBridge's Roots to Routes - a month long campaign to raise funding for the Refugee Project.  Since August 2011, BuildaBridge has served nearly 100 refugees through art therapy and therapeutic art-making groups as part of the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (PRMHC).  In that time, we have helped individuals blossom in their creative expression, helped facilitate an increase in group cohesion within specific ethnic groups, and joined a new collaborative, the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, through which BuildaBridge served an additional 50 participants.  Originally funded by the Department of Behavioral Health and DisAbility Services, BuildaBridge and the PRMHC's member partners have secured additional funding to sustain the project until the end of Year 3 (June 30, 2014).  Funding from Roots to Routes will allow BuildaBridge and both collaboratives to continue to serve another 100 refugees through art-making experiences.

What will the funds support?

  • The opportunity for nearly 150 refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers to attend art therapy and therapeutic art-making groups in the community context in order to process their traumas and find hope, healing and resiliency. *
  • Seven paid personnel including five art therapists, the project manager and the supervising psychologist
  • Quality art supplies used in the four art therapy groups
  • Space - the locations where groups are held require rent
  • Reporting and assessment - art therapists complete attendance and an online assessment for each group which require monthly fees
  • Start-up funds for groups with a newly arrived refugee population
  • Administration of the project

*Children and clients of BuildaBridge's art therapy groups attend these at no cost to them. 

How can you help?

  • Donate now online - designation:  Roots to Routes
  • Write a check and mail to:  BuildaBridge International, 205 W. Tulpehocken St, Philadelphia, PA 19144   Memo section:  Roots to Routes
  • Ask your friends and family to donate

What if you can't make a donation?
Spread the word!  Use your social media platforms and email to share information about the campaign. Every day, BuildaBridge will post a new piece of information about the project on the blog.  Copy and paste this text with the provided links to your platforms.

How else can you get involved?
Volunteer with us!  BuildaBridge engages creative people and the transformative power of the arts to bring hope and healing to children, families, and communities in the contexts of crisis and poverty.

Will you join us in helping refugees find new routes towards hope, healing and resiliency?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why is art important for refugee children?

For refugee children, art-making experiences within the BuildaBridge Classroom model have helped them identify adjustment strategies, build on their personal strengths and build resiliency in a new culture.

S is a 10-year old Bhutanese refugee girl who has been attending BuildaBridge groups since they started in August 2011 with almost near perfect attendance. In the almost three years of her attending groups, through art-making, S has made significant progress in all of the BuildaBridge outcome areas (social, character development, artistic and academic). As an illustration of the development of her social skills, S has improved relations with her younger brother with whom she is often competitive. This has been an ongoing growth area the therapists have been addressing. During the past two years, S has physically participated less in the movement experiences when other girls are not in attendance. During this third year of programming and as an illustration of her increased character development and artistic skills, S now participates fully and with consistent rhythm even when she is the only girl in the group. With regard to the visual arts, S would often rush to create as many pieces as possible. Therapists revealed this year that she is savoring the process of completing one, quality piece of art. One of the most significant ways S has progressed in her development is the recognition and explanation of her past. On November 17, 2013, the art therapist noted in her assessment, “This session is the first group that S has ever explicitly talked about the move from Nepal to Philadelphia. Her discussions of topics like these have deepened in thoughtfulness.” It is on this foundation that therapists continue to work with S through art-making experiences on exploring her past, her traumas and her dreams for the future.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Nothing lasts forever

Teaching artist assistant Robert Kelleher works with a child on his project

For the past several weeks in the Bhutanese movement and visual art group we have been discovering and unfolding the metaphor that just as some art materials create art work that is impermanent, semi-permanent, and permanent, there are things in life that are impermanent, semi-permanent, and permanent. The last two group sessions have focused on permanent art. The children have been imprinting sculpey clay with the soles of shoes and other found objects, that we then bake and bring back to them. The children have started the process of writing narrative stories about their "artifact" sculptures using words and symbols. As they explore how their sculptures have hardened and become permanent (unless broken), they have connected the idea that they also leave artifacts of themselves and can have a permanent imprint on the world.

Children shared that by helping each other, caring for others, and sharing things with their siblings, they leave a positive imprint. Just this last session we talked about the life long imprint they would like to leave, children began expressing all of the things they would like to be as they grow up. Some responses included a rock star, the president, a teacher, an artist, and a few are interested in becoming doctors who help to heal people. Children have been continually working on the social skills of collaboration, turn-taking, respecting one another, honoring their personal space and sharing public space, sharing materials and ideas, and listening and welcoming others. The children are challenged to do these things in every ritual, transition, and art experience throughout our sessions.

We have also been exploring the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly, particularly the migration and metamorphosis patterns. We have also learned that while the life of the Monarch is constantly changing and they are often migrating they also have a lasting effect or imprint on the environment. Children have collaboratively choreographed dances using the composition skills of beginning, middle, and end, original creative movement invention, and props to tell the story of their own imagined butterflies. The dances tell of butterflies who find long lost friends, butterflies who had to leave their homes to find the food they needed to grow, butterflies who have lost their parents, butterflies who go north, then south, then north, then south, and butterflies who bring joy to the places they go. The children observed one another's dances as an audience at a professional performance, creating a stage space and an audience space and clapping eloquently for one another.  -- written by Julia Crawford, Lead Therapeutic Movement Instructor

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Featured on WHYY

BuildaBridge’s collaborative partner for the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR), Nationalities Service Center (NSC), was interviewed by WHYY Staff about the immigrants with whom they work.  One of the clients interviewed for the piece, which aired Friday, February 14th, discussed her participation in one of the BuildaBridge art-making groups.  Listen to the interview here. The piece regarding NSC and BuildaBrige begins at time marker 16:40.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Philadelphia Inquirer features project

Philadelphia Inquirer writer Michael Matza features one of the sub-projects of the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative - Southeast by Southeast by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.  The storefront in South Philadelphia is the same location that BuildaBridge conducts art therapy groups for the Bhutanese and Burmese children.  English as a Second Language classes, sewing lessons and other art groups are also held here.

Check out the article!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Art and a little chocolate

Sunday was the second group of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR) Spring Session.  Artists Julia Crawford, Christine Byma and new volunteer, Julie Texteira, prepared a watercolor activity for the women's group.  One woman, Ann, was in attendance and I was invited to join the group.  We started with the feeling movement circle, led by Ms. Crawford, where we each chose a word that we were feeling that day and created a movement that illustrated the word.  I chose the word 'Encouraged' as being involved in the group inspired me personally and solidified the confidence I have in these groups that they can truly make a difference in the lives of those that have experienced trauma.  We put the movements together creating a circular, choreographed dance.  As a dancer myself, I was able to identify with each movement as it expressed all of our innermost feelings.  We then stated the BuildaBridge motto.  Stating the motto as a group gave the words power and at least for me, were the encouraging words needed to conquer the day ahead.

We moved to the long table where blank paper and watercolor paints awaited us.  Ms. Byma showed the group watercolor techniques, which as a dancer, felt out of my comfort zone at first.  She showed us the wet on wet technique - putting water on the paper first, then adding the watercolor paint to that area, created a very fluid spot of color. The second technique was merely the watercolor paint on the paper and then she showed us to add another color to it to create a new color.  The third technique involved turning the paper vertical so water and paint could drip down organically.  My first piece involved the wet on wet technique so all of the circular spots of color I created had soft, blurred edges.  I then used a darker color to create vertical jagged lines down the paper.  I turned my paper vertical and allowed water droplets to organically navigate their way down the jagged lines I just created.  Like a river hitting rocks, bumps and curves, I watched as the water flowed within the loose boundaries I created by paint.  In my life right now, there are particular things over which I have control and for which I've created structure.  But one of the things I learned as I watched the water droplets run down the paper like a river was that there are times when I need to let go of that control, and adapt to the changes occurring.  The droplets from the first sheet landed on a second piece of paper. These droplets then formed the foundation of my second piece (bottom sheet in photo below), creating something new and beautiful out of a bumpy and jagged beginning.  This moment was my art as metaphor for a life lesson.

The others shared their paintings and we discussed as a group what each meant to us as we viewed them.  The group closed with scarf dancing in a circle and stating the BuildaBridge motto again as encouragement for the day.  As I left, I felt calmer, at peace and prepared for the changes in my life.  Creative arts therapy research has shown these therapies to be one of the most effective strategies for alleviating the symptoms of trauma, abuse and stress. 

On my way home, I stopped and bought a piece of chocolate.  The combination of the art-making experience to help me process changes in life and chocolate to decrease the stress hormone cortisol, I felt relaxed, encouraged and at peace.  

This is why BuildaBridge uses art-making experiences with populations who have have experienced trauma.  To read more detail about BuildaBridge's approach and core values, visit the website

-- Danielle Dembrosky Bossert, Refugee Project Manager