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Kids De-Stress Through Art and Music Therapy At New Summer Camp

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Louisa Jonas
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Texas Public Radio

Instead of swimming and playing soccer at summer camp, some San Antonio kids are doing yoga, learning relaxation skills, and getting music therapy.  The new Camp Wellness at the Ecumenical Center aims to teach children, who may be undergoing stress or are experiencing bullying, about the importance of their mental health and wellness.

Camp Wellness’s music therapist Elisabeth Hand has just encouraged about 20 kids to write down ways they deal with stress. Those written coping skills will turn into song lyrics to be performed later. Today the children are practicing the beat of the song with drums, castanets and wood blocks.

“Just like doctors have their surgical instruments, we have our musical instruments,” Hand says. “So here at Camp Wellness, it’s showing them how they can use music as an effective coping skill—how they can relate it to their entire body. In each of use there is an internal rhythm, and sometimes when we’re stressed or we’re feeling anxious, those rhythms can kind of get messed up. So using the music and finding those rhythms, which is what he drums are really good for helps center kids.” 

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Credit Louisa Jonas / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
Music Therapist Elisabeth Hand and her campers

Mary Beth Fisk is the CEO of the Ecumenical Center. She says it can be especially hard for some children who need help to open up to a traditional counselor through talk therapy. So Camp Wellness takes a different approach.

“So we incorporate play therapy,” Fisk says. “We incorporate writing and poetry. Our younger children this morning wrote haikus. Our older children wrote longer poems this morning and they drew a picture to match what they were trying to express.”

The free two-day camp, that's full, is taking place this week.  Administrators intend to offer services again next summer.

Louisa Jonas is an independent public radio producer, environmental writer, and radio production teacher based in Baltimore. She is thrilled to have been a PRX STEM Story Project recipient for which she produced a piece about periodical cicadas. Her work includes documentaries about spawning horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds aired on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Louisa previously worked as the podcast producer at WYPR 88.1FM in Baltimore. There she created and produced two documentary podcast series: Natural Maryland and Ascending: Baltimore School for the Arts. The Nature Conservancy selected her documentaries for their podcast Nature Stories. She has also produced for the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations Podcast. Louisa is editor of the book Backyard Carolina: Two Decades of Public Radio Commentary. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her training also includes journalism fellowships from the Science Literacy Project and the Knight Digital Media Center, both in Berkeley, CA. Most recently she received a journalism fellowship through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she traveled to Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska to study climate change. In addition to her work as an independent producer, she teaches radio production classes at Howard Community College to a great group of budding journalists. She has worked as an environmental educator and canoe instructor but has yet to convince a great blue heron to squawk for her microphone…she remains undeterred.