FORT BELVOIR, Va., May 22, 2014 – The United Service
Organizations' Art as Therapy program provides comfort and a
creative refuge for wounded warriors in the healing process.
Ashy Palliparambil, an Art Therapist and Hospital Services Program
Specialist, has led the USO Art and Music Program here since August
2012, focusing on recreational programs which serve as a therapeutic
release for wounded troops while creating a “safe space” to create
art while they recover.
The unique program operates
exclusively at the Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Maryland and
Fort Belvoir USO Warrior and Family Centers where there are a high
number of wounded, ill and injured troops undergoing the recovery
Ashy Palliparambil, an art therapist in
charge of the United Service Organizations' Art as Therapy Program,
explains the concepts behind two pieces of artwork created by
wounded warriors and displayed at the USO Warrior and Family Care
Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., May 21, 2014. (DOD photo by Army Sgt.
1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.)
Some of the services offered through the art and music
program include wood carving, acrylic and watercolor
painting, drawing, collaging, sculpture, writing,
multimedia, poetry and spoken word workshops.
the center was open, USO didn't really have an art program
or anything that offered something similar to this,” Palliparambil said yesterday
during an interview with the American Forces Press Service.
“When the center was being built they decided that they
would have a music studio and an art studio.
decided to hire an art therapist who could pick programs
that would be beneficial for the service members,” she
continued. “I think the programs have developed very
Palliparambil said the program has
flourished from partnerships she has been able to foster
with willing organizations based on activities that service
“Photography is an example of that,”
she said. “Photography is something the service members come
to me and say, ‘Hey, we really want to learn this. Can you
find someone to help us become better photographers?'
“So then I found a USO volunteer photographer who could
facilitate that,” Palliparambil added.
art therapist noted, it comes from organizations such as the
woodcarving group which initially operated only in Bethesda
who offered to help elsewhere.
“They said, ‘Well, you
have this new center at Belvoir,'” Palliparambil said. “‘I
might have some people there that live close to that area.'”
The USO tried woodcarving, she said, “and we actually
got a good amount of people who came out to the woodcarving
“So it's happened both ways,”
Palliparambil continued. “It's what the service members want
and then what can be offered. And we kind of see what works
and what doesn't and go from there.”
It's not always
a bad thing when something doesn't work, she noted. “We also
have programs that don't do well, but we always try to give
everyone an opportunity to offer a different program here,”
Activities also include a
photo-transfer class, stained glass-making, learning to
create using air-dry clay, model airplanes and ships, and
garden stepping stones, according to the art therapist.
“We've also had cartoonists come in,” Palliparambil
said. There are also opportunities to do three-dimensional
works like the 360 project using any medium, mask making,
collages, and many other services, she said.
Specialized workshops, Palliparambil said, such as combat
paper where uniforms are turned into paper for imagery and
words are also available.
“We've also had the
Shakespeare Theater do some professional development,” she
said, which involves employing acting skills to teach
participants how to do interviews and present themselves to
get a job.
One of the most challenging parts of her
job, Palliparambil said, is watching service members who
have grown close to the staff, transition out to new
“Sometimes you get a good group of people
who are really into the arts and will be in here making
art,” she said. “They will be here past open studio time,
talking, have music playing, creating art together.
“And then they move on to bigger and better things, and they
transition out,” Palliparambil continued. “So you don't have
the same flow anymore, and it's about getting new people
interested. The constant changing that's happening here --
it's a transition unit -- everyone's transitioning in and
As they leave, it's a challenge to get the next
group of people interested in the program, she said.
“A lot of people say that they've never made art before, or
‘I can't draw a stick figure,'” Palliparambil said. “So just
getting them to have the confidence to even come into the
art studio is a challenge sometimes.”
said she “definitely” thinks about those that depart the
program, especially the wounded, ill and injured troops who
use the art studio.
“It's not opened to everybody,”
she said. “It's usually a very small, intimate group.”
The wounded warriors “get to the point where they're
comfortable in talking to you,” Palliparambil said, “and
sharing their stories, and sharing their recovery process
with you. So it's great to have been able to meet them and
work with them. It becomes very sad when it's time for them
Palliparambil noted the USO's music and art
program dovetails with other programs that help service
members and veterans.
“A lot of people here are
transitioning out,” she said. “Being able to find resources
outside of a military post is important. So I think we just
complement each other really well.”
said that while the Fort Belvoir program is specific to
wounded, injured and ill troops, there are other activities
at the Bethesda center which is open to active-duty service
members and their families.
“At Bethesda, there are
some programs that are open to all active duty [service
members],” she said. “We have a children's program there,
and I do get some of the families that work there and live
close by that will bring their kids to the program.”
After seeing over 1,000 people participate in the first year
alone, Palliparambil said she feels as though the program
has made a difference in terms of helping wounded troops
recover and providing a creative outlet for active duty
service members and their families.
“I think it's
very positive, because after a year, you can see that the
whole studio is filled with art,” Palliparambil said. “That
means that people are coming in here making use of the space
on their own time and in the program. So I think it's been
well-received by the service members.”
For now, the
USO Art as Therapy Program is available for service members
and their caregivers to explore, so they can “go back and
learn to play, and kind of let go and just be,”
“And we just hope that they keep
coming back,” she said.
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
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