Beyond Words International: Triumphing over trauma and healing through art

Photo courtesy Casey Crow
Beyond Words International will send a team to Greece this summer to do arts-based therapy with Syrian refugees. From left to right, the team includes: (back row) Jenna Gannon, Leslie Santee and Paula Jo Miller, (front row) Casey Crow and Mary Jen Meerdink. Not pictured: Kelly Ziemer and Addie Thompson.

By Casey Crow
Special to The PREVIEW
We are thrilled to announce the official launch of Beyond Words International (Beyond Words or BWI), a newly formed 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Pagosa Springs. Beyond Words aims to promote healing in survivors of trauma, in the U.S. and abroad, through the arts.
Our mission
At Beyond Words, we believe art is a universal language, a powerful vehicle for healing and trauma release, and a means of building a strong local-to-global community.
In addition to serving Pagosa Springs, BWI aims to cultivate hope and healing for survivors of severe trauma including refugees, survivors of sexual violence and those with special needs.
BWI’s initial project is to bring healing through art to women and children in a refugee camp located outside of Patras, Greece, in the summer of 2019.
According to board president Casey Crow, “The dream of Beyond Words began seven years ago when I first witnessed the impact of movement-based therapy on young students in Kenya. Nearly all of these children were physically disabled, displaced from their home countries or survivors of sexual violence (some all three), yet they found a visible, transformational release through dance and movement. As a dancer myself and passionate human rights activist, I had found a life-changing intersection of the things I love most. I piloted a dance therapy program in Greece for refugees in 2016 with great results and I am thrilled to return this summer with such an incredible team.”
Why it is important
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, nearly 12 million Syrians have been forced from their homes, either internally displaced or seeking asylum abroad. It has been deemed one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history, and half of those affected are children.
Since the closing of European borders in 2015, more than 60,000 refugees have been trapped in Greece awaiting resettlement. This incomprehensible trauma is largely ignored by the humanitarian system, which unfortunately has finite resources to service basic human needs. Beyond Words strives to fill this gap by providing healing through art and other psycho-social support.
Board member Dr. Mary Jen Meerdink stated, “Over the decades that I have worked in the arena of personal growth, I have found that a key element in the process of moving beyond trauma and loss and into healing is having the safe space and support to tell one’s deep and personal story. Often, such crucial storytelling defies words and rather, can best be facilitated through nonverbal means. The mission of BWI, to offer these expressive pathways to empowerment, aligns deeply with my belief in the power of art, movement and creative experience to transmute trauma and challenge into empowerment and dignity.”
Our team
Our seven-person team has been carefully crafted to offer a comprehensive set of skills and experience in the arts, teaching, mission and refugee work abroad, psychotherapy, nonverbal therapy, education, data collection/evaluation, film production, nonprofit management, fundraising, financial management, relationship building and more.
The team will help women and children of the refugee camp work through the wide range of challenges associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Art therapy has proven to be a powerful healing tool with the ability to transcend language and cultural barriers as it transforms anxiety, depression, fear and anger into positive expression, heightened self-esteem and self-empowerment.
According to Paula Miller, local abstract artist and secretary of Beyond Words, “From the moment I talked to Casey about her experience teaching dance in a refugee camp, I knew I wanted to join her. I believe that when I add my skills as a teaching artist to the amazing talents of the women on our team, we can help the women and children in this camp heal from their trauma and regain a sense of hope. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”
In partnership with The Schoolbox Project, an organization working long-term in Greece, Beyond Words will facilitate art therapy workshops for six weeks from July through August 2019 in LM Village refugee camp. Together, we will collaborate with women and children who are dealing with trauma through dance, drawing, painting, collage, yoga, meditation, self-defense, and both verbal and nonverbal therapy.
In addition, BWI will provide therapy to humanitarian workers serving long-term in the refugee crisis, offer training to members of the community who are interested in continuing art therapy workshops, and partner with local artists and therapists within the refugee and resident communities.
Local-to-global impact
As members of the Pagosa Springs community, our team is passionate about bringing healing through the arts at home as well as abroad. Beyond Words will partner with a variety of community organizations, schools and local volunteers to bring hope, healing and a love of the arts to Pagosa Springs. We will join forces with young people in the community in effort to raise awareness of global issues, encourage civic engagement and cultivate a sense of shared humanity.
Upcoming collaborative efforts include a student-led art supply drive at Pagosa Springs High School for the LM Village Project, a community tapestry weaving shared by Pagosa Springs and LM Village, and a Kid’s Art Camp modeled after our art therapy curriculum to encourage creative expression and positive self-image in the youth of Pagosa.
How to donate
Our goal is to raise $25,000 to allow five members of our team to participate in our project in Greece. This amount does not include funding for the two students on our team who might receive university funding. It is our hope that we will raise this amount in its entirety. If we are unable to raise the full $25,000, our entire team will not be able to participate in the program.
You can make a tax deductible donation by:
• Donating on our Facebook page at @beyondwordsintl.
• Sending a check to Beyond Words International at P.O. Box 291, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.
Learn more about BWI
• Facebook: @beyondwordsintl.
• Website: BWIntl.org.
• Email: beyondwordsintl@gmail.com.

This story was posted on January 24, 2019.