Local project uses arts to build caring environment for children

Equine therapy at Harmony Family Conference.

Earlier this month, Valerie Walawender, M.A., founder and lead artist of the CREATE Project, attended the “Regulate, Relate, Reason: A Developmental Approach to Trauma Conference” at the Harmony Family Center in Knoxville, Tenn. There she met Dr. Bruce Perry, the keynote speaker and internationally recognized psychiatrist and founder of the Child Trauma Academy.

When Walawender shared the CREATE Project mission with Dr. Perry, he enthusiastically embraced the concept, stating, “We use the arts in our work!” In fact, a large part of the Knoxville conference emphasized how Dr. Perry’s Neurosequential Model utilizes the arts as a way to help heal children affected by trauma. The arts can be used as an effective intervention to enhance children’s capacity to regulate their own emotions and increase their capacity to learn.

Dr. Perry is the senior fellow of the Child Trauma Academy and an internationally recognized expert on child psychiatry and the impact of trauma on children’s development. At the conference, Perry explored the impact of trauma on children’s developing brains and how clinicians, educators, caregivers and community organizations can use the Neurosequential Model as a lens for assessing trauma and implementing developmentally sensitive strategies for support and healing.

The CREATE Project is an arts-based community intervention designed to help our area become the world’s first community that is free of child abuse, neglect, and trauma, and to become a place where children can grow to their highest potential. The CREATE Project also helps bring attention to the issue of child abuse and optimum child-rearing practices. The program helps unify the community and our ability to affect local child abuse and its short and long-term health, social, and economic effects.

The CREATE Project advisory board, composed of community leaders, educators, health professionals, agency representatives, artists, tradition-bearers and community members, will convene in the upcoming months. Dr. Perry has agreed to join the CREATE Project Advisory Board in their mission.

Community need

Chautauqua County has the eighth highest rate of child abuse in New York state. More than 4,000 children are affected annually. Lack of awareness and understanding concerning the psychological, social, historical and cultural roots of child-abuse and neglect contribute to its multi-generational transmission. In addition to this, the need for inter-generational programming in our community is paramount.

Senior citizens, disabled adults and other adults search for meaningful, enjoyable activities where they can connect with younger persons, and share their experience and friendship.

Community arts program

The CREATE Project “Share Sessions” are intergenerational community workshops that enable local tradition-bearers to share their skills integrated with positive child-rearing practices. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and children “build community” with each other, and learn traditional arts-based skills from experienced musicians, artists, and tradition bearers. Landon Gray, Renee Pye, Deborah LaBarr, John Lowther, Vicky Kaiser, Richard Schuler, Debbie Kuczynski, Peter Miller, Jessie Boice, William Walawender, Susanne MacKay, Jessica Toby Lustig, D’Arsie Manzella, Patti Greenstein, and others have shared their skills. Art forms such as Wood Craft, Creative Sewing, World Music, Arts & Crafts, Tai Chi, Paper Arts, Ceramics, Jewelry making, Calligraphy, Storytelling, Movement and Dance are presented in these inclusive, intergenerational community programs. A CREATE Project summer arts program and an after-school program have also been offered through the Dunkirk City School since May 2017.

The CREATE Project uses 3 Processes: “Share,” “Collaborate,” and “Reach.”

The SHARE Process recognizes that local tradition-bearers (folk artists, musicians, storytellers, and others) are in an optimal position to transmit positive child-rearing practices in the community. They are invited to share and exchange their experience, perspectives, skills, and practices with child-field professionals. Both groups work together to integrate the traditional skills and practices with modes of tested, optimal child-rearing practices. Opportunities are created for the tradition-bearers to share their “integrated” practices with the larger community at local gathering places, workshops, and events.

In the COLLABORATE Process, artists collaborate with community partners to create new works of art to bring attention to the CREATE Project mission. A new work of art could be a mural, a dance, a song, a poem, a community program or another artistic experience. This is the big, public, attention getting, educational part of the CREATE Project.

The REACH Process is simply the idea that we need to reach everyone. Through a concerted marketing, outreach, and education campaign, we hope to inspire the whole community to embrace the CREATE Project goal.

CREATE Project Portfolio of Accomplishments: The CREATE Project continues over a decade of arts-based community interventions including folk and traditional arts celebrations begun by the Folk arts Programs of the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Chautauqua County, the Dunkirk Historical Society, and Adams Art Gallery. The 2018 Tradition-Fest featured over 50 local tradition-bearers and their arts as well as representatives from 30 local service providers. In 2017-18, through the Dunkirk City School District, The CREATE Project offered an after-school and summer arts program. This past summer and fall, CREATE Project inter-generational and inclusive community arts programs include: Music, Creative Sewing, Tai Chi, Wood Craft and Arts & Crafts workshops. This fall two SUNY Fredonia Music Therapy interns are presenting a music therapy program through the CREATE Project at the Steger Apartment Building.


In 2017-18, videographer Corey McCrea produced a CREATE Project educational and promotional video. The video opens with community leaders, residents, and youth declaring, “We want to create the world’s first community to embrace the goal to become free of child-abuse and neglect, and to become a place where children can grow to their highest potential.”

An hour-long public television program, “Fresh Perspectives,” hosted by Gail Erb, featured an interview with Valerie Walawender, founder and lead artist for the CREATE Project. The program aired on Sept. 15 Spectrum Television in Mayville, and can be viewed on YouTube. Another interview, featuring the CREATE Project Creative Sewing program and Sewing instructor Debbie Kuczynski, can soon be viewed on the SUNY Fredonia channel.


In-kind funds, services, sites, and materials, from individual, business, and agency community members have been committed to the program. Promotional, and educational brochures are available. Over $11,000 in monetary support has been committed to the project by the Dunkirk City School, a GoFundMe Campaign, the Academy Heights Neighborhood Association, and DFT Inc. The CREATE Project was recently awarded a NYSARC grant for Fall 2018 community arts programming.

SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath has generously offered support and cooperation for the program. The Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation is the fiscal sponsor for the CREATE Project and the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Chautauqua County is the lead community partner. Though we work cooperatively together, the CREATE Project is a separate entity and operates as such.

For more information, visit the CREATE Project website. The CREATE Project video can be seen at https: Donations are gratefully accepted for this important project.