"Heroes and Trash Bags"
Everyone has heroes who impact their lives and make them want to be better people. My heroes are Nurses! I will forever be moved by the pictures from the height of the pandemic capturing the Nurses who wore trash bags because they had run out of sterile gowns. Their heartbreaking situation, yet their "can do" spirit was a catalyst for me. Learning about the numerous personal sacrifices these heroes and their colleagues around the country made in order to fight Covid is something I will never forget. Their bravery, their dedication and their compassion gave me Hope when I needed it the most. Without these healthcare professionals, the country would not have survived the pandemic.
Healthcare workers were already under stress before the Covid crisis; unfortunately, it is a job hazard. Whether they work in private practices, assisted living facilities, clinics, schools or hospitals, Nurses are the ones especially stretched to the limits. The pandemic created an entirely new set of patient needs and the demands on nurses have grown exponentially. In the past two years alone, they have had to face more challenges than anything they ever learned in Nursing School. Nurses are on the frontline of every crisis and are always there to provide comfort, care and support. Lately they have also had to worry about gun violence in their work places and protecting their patients as well as themselves. It shouldn't be like this. Chronic stress is detrimental to physical and mental health and wellness. Currently, many Nurses don't receive the adequate and essential care they need in order to constantly endure the highs, the lows, the uncertainties and the challenges of their profession. Mental health and wellness services are often unavailable, expensive and inaccessible. Nurses are emotionally and physically depleted with little opportunities to rest, refuel and process things. They are the heartbeat of our communities and a lifeline for many. When they suffer, we all suffer.
Having a daughter who is a Nurse, a son who is in Physician's Assistant/Associate School and two nieces who are also Nurses, I am more acutely aware of how many healthcare professionals are suffering right now, sadly many in silence. PTSD, mental, physical and financial stress are just a few challenges they are experiencing. Nurses under 35 years old and Nurses of color are especially prone to burnout and inadequate self care. Many are having to choose between taking care of themselves or taking care of their patients. Hundreds have left the Nursing profession due to the enormous emotional and physical toll.
Those Nurses who had to wear trash bags, work double shifts and isolate from their own families should make each of us want to do whatever we can for them. They inspired me to find a way to use my own gifts to help others. In the summer of 2020, I created and led an art project called The Together While Apart Art Project. This project has now become a campaign platform to address the struggles our Nursing professionals face. The artwork has received national recognition from The Smithsonian Institute, ChannelKindness.Org (a non-profit founded by Lady Gaga), NOAH (National Organization of Arts in Healthcare) and a handful of other well known organizations. I have the opportunity and the dedication to use this piece for a greater purpose. It seems only fitting to use this artwork as a "mascot" as a way to thank and support Nurses as well as raise awareness of their burnout.
The Together While Apart Art Project was a way for me to build community from afar during the lockdown phase of the pandemic. Creating gave me an outlet to channel my own grief and anxiety into something positive. I recruited 18 other artists (from 9 different states representing both coasts) who also wanted to use their creative gifts to inspire and uplift. The artwork has become a visual symbol of Hope, Healing and Light, as well as a positive reminder of the strength in community and collaboration. Healthcare professionals epitomize all the qualities I wanted this art project to stand for. They are role models who make me want to be a more giving person. As a way to honor them, this artwork has been dedicated to them. When I envisioned this project, I knew I wanted it to be more than an interesting piece of artwork to just look at. The Together While Apart Project is a bigger story than just a collection of individual squares in a colorful composition. It is a lasting tribute to our healthcare professionals for their heroism and bravery during such an unprecedented time.
After traveling around the Southeast for a year on temporary exhibition to various hospitals, The Together While Apart Artwork went to its final location. The Together While Apart Art Project has been permanently acquired by The University of Virginia Medical Center and installed in their Central Hospital. To culminate the project's success, I have found one last philanthropic role for the artwork. Supporting, honoring and thanking nurses through a financial campaign is how I am accomplishing this. Recently, I partnered with The American Nurses Association to establish a special campaign in the name of The Together While Apart Art Project. This campaign provides additional funding to The American Nurses Foundation's Wellness Initiative Programs. These ANF programs provide free wellness services, job enrichment training and many other supportive resources for Nurses. No Nurse should ever suffer in silence or feel alone, forgotten, unappreciated or undervalued. I want Nurses to know that the sacrifices they made and continue to make have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
The Together While Apart Project's Thank You To Our Nurses Campaign will raise $20, 200 for The Wellness Initiative Programs. This amount was chosen because it reflects the numbers 2020, the year national Nurses truly became heroes. So far, over $26,000 has been raised. This campaign has made it possible for over 940 Nurses to receive a free one hour phone call with a mental health specialist.
This campaign is a marathon effort and any way you can help is appreciated. Whether through a donation or simply sharing this campaign information with others, Nurses will benefit from your help. All proceeds go directly to The ANF's Wellness Initiative Programs and are tax free. Whenever I run out of steam and question if the $20, 200 goal can be reached, I think about all of the frontline caregivers, especially the ones who had to make do with simple trash bags. Finding a way to honor, elevate and thank them motivates me to continue doing whatever I can to make a difference. I regret that it has taken a worldwide crisis for us to recognize these unsung heroes.
Here is the link to The Together While Apart Project's Thank You To Our Nurses Campaign if you would like to check it out.
Thank you so much,