THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The images seem almost out of a nightmare – all smoke and flames. For those who witnessed the Thomas and Woolsey fires, these are memories put on paper.
“It’s the view from our backyard," Natasha Kissler said, referring to the drawing she was working on. "It’s the Boney Mountain and how everything behind it was like, a little red.”
Kissler had to evacuate in the middle of the night. She is one of the lucky ones. Her house was fine, her family safe, but she says everyone in the area was affected by the wildfires in some way.
“Even if you were not home you were texting everybody who is," she recalled. "I remember we were leaving in the middle of the night and we just wanted to make sure our neighbors were awake and they had their alarm go off on their phone.”
Adam Neal is a registered associate marriage and family therapist with Cal Lutheran Community Counseling Services. He says the fires left different kinds of scars on the community.
“The kind of scars that you might be able to access in a conscious way. 'I’m still thinking about it. I’m still having dreams or nightmares,'" said Neal. "There’s a lot of those scars which are on the inside, and we can’t necessarily know the ways that it’s impacting us.”
To help people process those feelings, Cal Lutheran has been offering free counseling. But Neal says he was hearing that people wanted something less clinical. So he began a series of free art workshops at Art Trek.
“We really wanted to create a way for community members to come together to have a different kind of conversation than people are used to having about this type of event, through the arts, in a safe space," Neal said.
Seeing the work produced by adults and children, Neal said it’s clear that the participants needed a way to express what they might be holding inside.
“They are getting to access things and work through things that they haven’t been able to this way before," Neal said. "It’s an opportunity.”
Kissler says art definitely helps. Kids often give clues to how they are feeling in their artwork, she says, and she thinks adults could benefit from the same outlet.
“I think sometimes we try to find the right words to say and we don’t really say what we really feel. We just try to calm everybody around and not to panic," Kissler said. "Maybe our artwork allows us to really tell what we feel.”
Creating art, community and healing, all with the same brushstroke.
The next free Wildfire Recovery Community Healing Workshop is being held on February 28 at 6 p.m. at Art Trek.
For more information on the workshops or the free wildfire-related counseling services offered in Westlake Village or Oxnard, contact Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org.