Katrina victims remember 'Renaissance Village' 10 years later

Katrina victims remember 'Renaissance Village' 10 years later

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - One definition of renaissance is a rebirth of things, a great revival of culture. Renaissance Village, the FEMA trailer neighborhood set up to house Hurricane Katrina evacuees, is now just a field. In the days following Katrina there wasn't much renaissance going on there.

Sister Judith Brun had been working with a great deal of the kids who would end up at Renaissance Village - first setting up a school at the Baton Rouge River Center hurricane shelter. Sister Judith remembers the day they helped move the evacuees to Renaissance Village.

"When we moved to Renaissance Village that was probably one of the worst days of my life," she said. "We had hundreds of people who only had a fear of the past and had no clue where they were going."

Some of the children were fresh from their New Orleans roof tops, trying to survive, and Sister Judith felt if they didn't do something soon, they would lose the children to the storm.

Sister Judith turned to art therapy.

"To express themselves in ways to a level and depth of pain," she said. "If they had not been able to and somehow pull that out of themselves, I often wonder what would've happened."

Art Therapist Karla Leopold flew in from California with a team of therapists and worked with the "Katrina Kids" over a period of years.

"These kids couldn't talk about what happened but they could draw about what happened," she said. Leopold is proud of the drawings that came from the kids. In the beginning she noticed something strange that started popping up in many of children's pictures- a lot of them were drawing triangles.

"When you're just giving them free art supplies they'll draw a house, a tree or a person or whatever. These children didn't draw houses we got triangles," Leopold said. "We thought maybe they just didn't know how to draw a house but then a 12-year-old drew a triangle and it was at that point in time that we realized the internal scheme of these children had been changed, that house was no longer a safe place- it was the roof. So many of these children had to be on the roof or they knew the roof was the only safe place to be."

Sister Judith is proud of the progress some of the kids have made.

"We have students in college now who were at Renaissance Village and suffered that same pain, that same loss but they were able, through I think support, connections, and people like the art therapist, they are now able to just move on in life and some say even doing better than they would have done if the experiences of Katrina had not come their way," she said.
You can view many of the pictures in an online art gallery at www.katrinaexhibit.org.

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