Doris Thurber receives human rights award

Bessie Redden (left), vice president, CWU of Franklin Co., is shown pinning Doris Thurber after she receives the CWU 2017 Human Rights Award.

Photo submitted.

Special to The State Journal

Church Women United of Franklin County held its 2017 Human Rights Celebration on Sept. 29 at Frankfort First United Methodist Church. This celebration is time taken to remember that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

The keynote speaker was Doris Thurber. She is an artist and arts educator and is credited with founding Hands Healing HeArts, an arts-based program working with women struggling with drug abuse and addiction. Thurber graduated from Kentucky State University, and went on to teach art in schools and privately, followed by various other types of work, but her main vocation is being an artist.

In 2015 Thurber’s only daughter, Maya, died of a heroin/fentanyl overdose. The unleashed emotions and energy created in the wake of her daughter’s death led Doris to pour her feelings into large collage works on cloth, pieced together from photos, writings and other Maya related memorabilia. This year-long process served to aid in the healing process, not only from her daughter’s death but also from the ongoing family trauma induced by drug abuse.

The community’s response to the resulting display of Doris and Maya’s art and writing was quite powerful. This helped lead her to the realization that creativity can used by individuals and communities as a tool for healing from trauma and grief, including the life traumas that can lead to drug dependency.

With this in mind, in 2016 Doris and fellow artists Jennifer Zingg, Joanna Hay (later joined by Karen Hatter and Amelia Berry), responded to the epidemic drug use and related deaths in their community by devising an arts-based program called Hands Healing HeArts, working with women who are in the process of recovering from drug abuse/addiction. Various projects are presented weekly, focused on self-discovery and on using creativity to find healthy expressions and outlets. The Franklin County Drug Court now includes Hands Healing HeArts as one of their mandatory components for eligible participants.

The weekly sessions during 2016-17 were inspiring and productive, resulting in a variety of writing exercises; a songwriting workshop; a music video; collaboration with a dance troupe; theater exercises and performances based on their writings; visual arts, including a life-size self-portrait installation; and a professional quality half-hour video “The Art of Recovery”, documenting the process and the reasons behind the project.

The 2017-18 season will build on this momentum, with the addition of visiting artists and outreach to the children of the participants. As an added bonus, an Americorps VISTA worker, Rebekah Berry, has recently joined the team to help create a “template” for Drug Courts in other counties to use in creating similar programs, utilizing their own local artists.

At the Human Rights Celebration “The Art of Recovery” was shown, followed by a Q & A with Ms. Thurber and Joanna Hay. Amelia and Rebekah Berry were also in attendance.

Thurber was then presented the 2017 Church Women United Human Rights Award for her dedication and tireless work to help bring about healing and recovery from drug addiction through the art-based program, Hands Healing HeArts.

A donation was taken for the ongoing work of Hands Healing HeArts, as well as a silent auction to raise funds for CWU local unit’s future mission work, and an offering for National Church Women United.

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