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Arts complement therapy at Morning Star Boys Ranch

By Deidre Jacobson

An integral part of the rehabilitation process for troubled boys living at Morning Star Boys Ranch on Glenrose Prairie, healing arts bring new hope and complement therapy and other programs. 

Guiding growth and wholeness through the use of healing arts is the work of Sue Rolando, cultural diversity and healing arts facilitator for the 10- to 17-year-old boys at the ranch.

Having created Spiritleaves, a spiritual art form involving painting on maple leaves, Sue understands the healing value of art. 

“I have used art to get through tough situations in my own life.  I grew up with creativity in my home,” she said. 

As resident artist since 2002, she has sought a tangible way to bring healing through art, to help the boys express their feelings.

MorningStar Boys ranch art


Art helps boys connect with experiences.



Through Art with a Heart, a nonprofit association dedicated to healing children and youth through creativity, she discovered the Chill and Spill Program.

The program offers 20 activities to promote self-awareness, self-expression, positive decision-making, hope and inspiration. Youth keep a journal to help them convey both their suffering and strength.  They create collages, draw, paint and design a unique identity crest.

“Chill and Spill opens doors to healing,” Sue said.  “It helps our youth communicate difficult issues and emotions, reduce stress and normalize feelings.   Pictures, drawings and words pour from the boys into their journals.”

Sue encourages them to reflect, share present and past experiences and find hope for the future.

Brian Barbour, program director for Morning Star Boys Ranch, said the healing arts program provides foundational work for the clinical staff. 

“As the boys explore their identity and self awareness, the counseling is enriched,” he said.

“The expression of emotions, including anger, through the arts is healing.  Traditional treatment has been anger management.  Chill and Spill complements that program, allowing expression and release,” said Brian.

Morning Star Boys Ranch, founded in 1957, provides treatment for youth who have not been helped by other programs.  Some were in failed or failing adoptions, others have attachment disorders or authority issues.

The boys can stay up to 12 months, while clinical staff assess their needs, develop a treatment plan and provide rehabilitation services designed around their unique situations. 

The program’s ultimate goal is family unification or transition to independence. 

Most attend public school.   Many once went from school to school.  Boys who need special assistance attend a transitional school in a one-room schoolhouse near the ranch. In the past nine years, all have graduated from high school.

The ranch has different residence houses for boys of different ages—one for pre-high school boys, others for high school students and youth over 18 needing continued support, such as while attending college.

Sue said that in providing the boys with opportunities to express themselves in healing arts, they “discover their talents and strengths, discern what is important in life and begin to set goals.  They can safely explore their own hidden beliefs and desires.”

One option involves a skateboard project.  After the boys take 15 hours of instruction on elements of art, they are given a blank skateboard deck and design art to decorate it.  When the design is complete, the boys assemble the skateboard with wheels and bearings, a unique creation.

Sue incorporates awareness of diverse people and cultures into her program by inviting guests to share their traditions and arts each month.  The boys also explore and experience cultural diversity programs in the community. 

A Native American guest recently shared about the Native tradition of the talking stick and other aspects of the culture.  During the presentation, the boys learned respect and listening skills, because only the person holding the talking stick could speak.  All others have to listen as the speaker shares his ideas.  After the presentation, the boys created talking sticks in Sue’s art class.   

Drawing supplies, painting supplies, glass fusion and clay are available for the boys’ use.  They throw, hand build, fire and glaze pots. 

The finished products can be sold at the ranch’s silent auction.  They receive the proceeds.

Sue allows open studio time for the boys to work on projects. 

“This time seems to be life-giving for them,” she said. 

Personal-interest time, part of the studio time, allows boys to make creative personal projects, which they give to their families or sell in the silent auction.

For information call 448-1412.

The Fig Tree - © June 2007