Stephanie Wray quickly grabbed the attention of the chattering children seated before her.
“I came here for you to help me with a special mission,” Wray said.
Now, any parent or teacher of children ages 4-6 knows “special mission” is catnip to a young mind.
The quest is to keep that mind engaged.
And Wray did with an effort to decorate wooden “Stars” that will be dispersed around the community in the coming weeks.
Wray was at the Washington High Gym this week as part of “Stars of Hope,” a therapeutic arts program.
“We are a non-profit and we work in communities after disasters,” Wray said of the New York City-based organization. “The concept is to paint a star and then pay them forward.
“There is an inherent therapeutic value in creating art. We are also trying to give them coping skills.”
Those lessons began before the paint hit the brush.
The “Stars” could be considered by the children as “breathing Stars,” Wray said.
Pull those five-pointers close in times of stress or when breathing becomes more difficult and “let this (Star) calm you down,” Wray added.
And, the mission the children were embarking on, Wray said, was one of hope, of creating hope in the community.
So, she asked the children, what other words reminded them of hope.
“Jesus, mom, dad, caring, play, love” were just some of the words that came tumbling out and onto paper.
Once exhausted of words, the children turned to the row of tables and paints set out and took to painting and decorating their “Stars.”
Among an older group that worked earlier in the day, there were some striking artistic creations and plenty of encouraging words, “Believe, Hope, Love” layered across the “Stars.”
“Stars of Hope” typically works in several ways; one can purchase a “Box of Hope” that includes everything needed to paint or decorate “Star” which is included, or by sending “Stars” to anyone across the globe.
More than 100,000 have been disbursed in 225 communities in 26 countries.
“These, however, will be staying in Port St. Joe and disbursed locally,” Wray said.
The world’s largest and fastest-growing healing arts program, “Stars of Hope” was enlisted to Port St. Joe by FEMA’s local Disaster Recovery Center.
The arts program is operating under the umbrella of the Life Management Center, which is providing emotional and mental health support to families impacted by Hurricane Michael.
“We put this together and the Junior Service League funded it,” said Celeste Putnam, a team leader for the DRC.
“Look at those children, they look so happy.”