Amanda’s Easel Celebrates 20 Years of Children’s Art Therapy

By Lori Draz

O17ALL(1)180 Turning Lives Around is happy to announce that the Monmouth County Amanda’s Easel Art Therapy program is celebrating its 20th year of healing. Program coordinator Cindi Westendorf is proud of the members of her team and even prouder of the amazing art that the children create. She shared some background on the national and local program and why the results are so impactful on children and their families.

Amanda’s Easel, the nationally recognized creative art therapies program, is designed to create a support system to help both children and their non-offending parents cope with the life changes precipitated by violence and abuse. The program provides art, play, and music therapy that promote healing by encouraging clients to express and understand their feelings and fears in a safe and nurturing environment, through various creative arts intervention and case management services. Children often don’t know how to describe the overwhelming feelings associated with witnessing domestic abuse. Amanda’s Easel gives them the tools they need so that they can begin healing.

The 180 Turning Lives Around Amanda’s Easel program, under the direction Ms. Westendorf, provides life-saving and life-changing support to Monmouth County families by helping parents and children understand that violence is a learned behavior. “The program helps families heal by resolving feelings of guilt, shame, and responsibility. It provides alternatives to abuse by teaching positive, creative ways to problem solve. The program is unique in the county in that all of the therapists hold credentials in the creative arts therapies, as well as specialize in the field of domestic violence and trauma. Amanda’s Easel provides a single access point to wrap-around services within 180 Turning Lives Around for the victim to begin the process of recovery.”

The program works to strengthen self-esteem, develop new coping skills, gain control over fears and doubts, increase communication between parent and child, and help break the cycle of family violence. Additionally, Amanda’s Easel helps parents gain a clearer understanding of the effects of domestic violence on a child’s development and to recognize post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Now, in their 20th anniversary, Amanda’s Easel is happy to report that it has gained tremendous support throughout the community over the last two decades from legislators, educational, and community partners, from large funders and individuals. Ms. Westendorf stated, “The generosity of our funders over the years has allowed us to expand our offerings to include dance, music, and play therapy, and case management in addition to art therapy, and expand services to victims of natural and man-made disasters. We need to continue to receive support to allow the program flexibility to tailor our services to the needs of the community. We know that making that first call to ask for support for your children can be difficult. That is why we work so hard to make Amanda’s Easel a comfortable, family-friendly place where non-offending parents and children learn positive ways to repair the wounds of domestic violence through a creative, age-appropriate and trauma-informed approach. Amanda’s Easel can help families recover from unhealthy, violent relationships if parents are committed to making positive changes.”

This year, Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen will be celebrating its fifth anniversary. Among the featured events will be the “Truth in Numbers” exhibit, which will showcase works from this year’s Amanda’s Easel collection. An art reception is scheduled for October 19 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. It is open to the public and a great chance to see the powerful works from these young artists.

For more information on the program, to learn more about 180 Turning Lives Around, or to seek assistance for yourself or a loved one, visit www.180nj.org or call (732) 787-6503.