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Hope and Balance at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

By Heller An Shapiro, Executive Director, ArtStream

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Every day, the staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) struggle to find hope and balance in a demanding position. In support of these compassionate men and women who care for wounded veterans, ArtStream, a local performing arts nonprofit, is proud to share You Are a Work of Art (YAWA).

This project, funded by the Prince Charitable Trusts, is designed for nurses, medics and technicians at WRNMMC to practice stress-management and self-care while building friendships through the arts.

ArtStream’s talented team of artists bring art projects, poetry, music, and camaraderie directly to the hospital staff. Sometimes, hospital staff engages with art in a five-minute pop-up project during the workday. Other times, they take an hour away from the job to eat, sing, make art, write poetry, and share their stories.

Legacy Ledgers Project:
Each year, the ArtStream program team meets with nursing staff to brainstorm project ideas for You Are a Work of Art. At one such brainstorming session, Dr. Judy Rollins, a consultant for ArtStream’s Military Hospital programs, recalls a nurse saying, “You know, there’s no history retained here because we come and go so often. It would be nice to have something that people could write in – put pictures in – so that we could remember each other and feel connected.”
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ArtStream’s Military Hospital programs team got to work, creating 75 wooden scrapbooks, one for each of the nurses’ stations and clinics at WRNMMC. One of the artists, Rosanne Singer, recalls the team’s commitment to the hard work, saying, “This was a team effort, and the tediousness of the job was alleviated by working together and knowing that these ledgers will hold meaningful memories for the nursing staff. Everyone worked for hours straight, sometimes laughing and joking, committed to getting the job done.”

The Legacy Ledgers live up to their name at the hospital. They are proudly displayed on bronze easels at each nurses’ station and clinic at WRNMMC. Some are painted or stained. Others have been decoupaged as a preview of the creativity within. Any hospital staff member, patient, or family member can pick up the Legacy Ledger and enjoy it.
Legacy-Ledger

The hospital can be a stressful work environment, but it is also filled with supportive caregivers and uplifting stories. Inside the Legacy Ledger, many items create a history of the workplace. One page may have a nice note from a patient, the next may have a post-it note drawing from a former co-worker, long-gone from the hospital. Hospital staff members add pictures from parties, and craft projects from other You Are a Work of Art activities.

Once, at a You Are a Work of Art workshop, a nursing unit leader was so proud of his cupcake decorating skills that he said he would save a photo from the day in his unit’s Legacy Ledger.
A recent You Are a Work of Art project asked hospital staff to write a message about what it means to them to take care of others and to take care of themselves. The results were collected from all over the hospital and used to create a word cloud. This word cloud connects the feelings of nurses, medics, and technicians throughout the hospital. Each Legacy Ledger has a copy of the word cloud, further connecting the caregivers as a community.
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Some personnel at WRNMMC have requested Legacy Ledgers to display at their offices or clinics outside the main complex. They are inspired by the idea and want to create their own histories as they help wounded warriors heal beyond the walls of the hospital. Fortunately, ArtStream can fulfill these requests.

On behalf of the You Are a Work of Art team, Dr. Rollins, says, “We are really pleased with the response to the Legacy Ledgers. Prince Charitable Trusts wants our projects to be in partnership with the people we are serving. The success of the Legacy ledger project is proof that this is a sound approach for supportive programming.”

About ArtStream:
ArtStream is a performing arts nonprofit based in Chevy Chase, Maryland with programming throughout the Greater Washington DC Metro region. We believe that when people make their own choices and are engaged, stimulated, challenged and inspired, they surpass both their own and others’ expectations.

ArtStream’s programming includes Military Hospital programs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) and Inclusive Performing Arts programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including autism and other social and behavioral needs.
Military Hospital programs include Allies in the Arts, a bedside arts program for patients and families at WRNMMC, and You Are a Work of Art, which focuses on arts experiences to build resiliency for hospital staff at WRNMMC. Allies in the Arts was featured in the 2013 white paper Arts, Health and Well-Being across the Military Continuum and the July 2015 issue of Art & Health. You Are a Work of Art was featured in the 2017 white paper Arts, Health and Well-Being in America.

ArtStream’s Inclusive Performing Arts programs include inclusive performing companies, performing arts classes, and classes that use the performing arts to teach social skills, self-advocacy, and pre-employment communication skills.
ArtStream’s inclusive performing companies perform for the public in Maryland and Virginia. See www.art-stream.org/see-a-show for a full schedule of events.
Inclusive Performing Arts programs welcome adult and teen volunteers to learn as peers with the participants. See www.art-stream.org/volunteers for volunteer opportunities. Provider organizations for people with disabilities may engage ArtStream teaching artists for one-time workshops or weekly classes. See www.art-stream.org/bring-artstream-to-your-community for more information.

7 Questions with Mark Robbins, Executive Director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund

Today we welcome Mark Robbins, Executive Director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, to answer 7 Questions! Mark E. Robbins, CAE, has been executive director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund since 2008. Prior to that he held positions with several trade associations with a focus on membership, communications, development and chapter relations. These organizations included the Career College Association, Community Associations Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, American Subcontractors Association and the American Society for Information Science. Earlier in his career he worked as an admissions officer for Marymount University (Va.) and Marian University (Ind.). Mark earned his B.A. in political science from Penn State University and has received the designation of Certified Association Executive (CAE) from the American Society of Association Executives.

1.What motivated you to begin working with this organization? What need does it fulfill and how is your organization working towards meeting it?

I came to the Yellow Ribbon Fund after a former boss of mine, who was volunteering with the group at the time, told me they were looking for an executive director. After meeting with the chairman and several board members, I was offered the job. My favorite jobs were always ones that had a cause, someplace where my work made a difference. At the Yellow Ribbon Fund, we make a huge difference for many injured service members and their families. We provide practical assistance that the government cannot. There is a special pride in helping these brave men and women and their families.

2.What was your most interesting recent development, update, project, event, or partnership?

This spring we’ve dramatically expanded our support for the family caregivers of injured service members, who are often overlooked. We were one of the first to recognize their sacrifices — mostly moms and young wives who drop everything to help their injured loved one recover. To help them do that, we’ve been providing them with free therapeutic massages and caregiver outings for mutual support. We just launched our first Caregiver Resource Fair at Walter Reed, our first Caregiver Retreat, and collaborated with University of Maryland University College and The Blewitt Foundation to offer one-of-a-kind caregiver scholarships.

The Pillars of Strength scholarships are full-ride scholarships to UMUC that make it possible for caregivers to prepare for their changed circumstances. After helping their service member recover, they often have a years-long gap in their resumes, and may also have to become the primary breadwinner.

For the Caregiver Retreat, we took 10 caregivers on a three-day/two night respite retreat in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Many of them had never spent a day away from their injured son or husband since the injury happened. We gave them the opportunity to nap, read, do crafts together, go out for a relaxing walking tour and gourmet meals, or just eat in bed if that?s what they wanted. Mostly, they got to spend time with others who understand what it means to care for their loved one every day.

3.What other projects are you up to?

Through our Ambassador Program, we’re growing a nationwide network of volunteers so we can continue to provide hands-on support to injured service members and their families after they go home. They’re scattered in communities across the country, and while some do just fine, others need help reintegrating. To keep them from falling through the cracks, as a nation we have to weave a safety net of support, and we’re at the forefront of making that happen. Our volunteer ambassadors, more than 100 of them now, are doing everything from providing rides to the VA to helping with job hunts and home renovations to just being a listening ear.

4.Who inspires you? Do you have a hero?

Our donors inspire me. It is always rewarding to see a donation come in. Sometimes it is from our own hard work; other times the donation seems to comes in from out of nowhere, like the anonymous donor who recently sent us $250,000. Or the envelope I just opened today with a $5,000 check and a note that said, “Keep up the good work!” It’s a humbling reminder that each time we hold an event, or post on our Web site or Facebook page, or speak to a group, people are listening. Large or small, all of our donors are heroic to me.

5.What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces, and how are you working towards combating this issue?

Our greatest challenge will be educating people that the needs won?t end when the war does. Troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, which means there will be fewer injured service members — thankfully! But while our current mission focuses on the injured while they?re being treated at Walter Reed and Ft. Belvoir, the young men and women who have lost limbs and suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will be challenged by these issues for years to come. Going forward, our mission will shift more and more toward outreach, staying in touch with the injured after they return to their hometowns through our Ambassador Program. Our staff and volunteers are already making a difference to returning veterans all across the country.

6. What advice do you have for other people in your position?

My best advice is to stay honest, open and transparent when talking about your nonprofit. Credibility is everything and you never want to do anything to compromise it.

7.What’s next for your organization, both in the short term and long term?

We will continue to focus on the injured as they come to the hospital, take care of their family members, and let them know we won’t forget about the sacrifice they made.

7 Questions – Mark E. Robbins (Yellow Ribbon Fund)

This week, we’re getting to know … Mark E. Robbins, Executive Director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund. The philosophy of the Fund is simple: wounded servicemen and women deserve first-class care as they recover. And their families deserve the same. With the help of over 1,200 volunteers, Yellow Ribbon Fund supplies the personal services that government programs just don’t cover.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We are launching a new initiative to stay in touch with the injured service members we helped while they were being treated at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital after they return to their hometowns. Many of these young men and women have a good support system at home and have goals of getting a job or going to college. But many do not have this safety net and we are reaching out to see how we can help.

2. What else are you up to?

We are starting to build a network of attorneys who can do pro bono work on behalf of veterans with legal needs. We are getting close to launching this effort and believe that this will be a very important service. Continue reading