Puzzle art reconnects Portland communities fragmented by COVID

by | Jun 28, 2022 | Behavioral Health, Family Support

If life can be explained in metaphors, here’s one that helps sum up the last two years. The COVID-19 pandemic turned many people in our communities into puzzle pieces scattered across a table, unattended and disconnected.

But the good news of society’s gradual reopening can be told in metaphor, too. That’s what some LCS Northwest staff in the greater Portland area have set out to do.

At community vaccination events co-sponsored by our agency, children and families from different ethnic, economic and language backgrounds have participated in an ongoing art therapy project. They are creating unique puzzle pieces and joining them together.

It was started by Alison Newey, a student intern in the Beaverton office, assigned the daunting task of community outreach during a pandemic. It culminated as the capstone for her Master’s in Art Therapy degree at Lewis and Clark College, where she graduated this spring. But it really hasn’t ended; Alison is now on staff in Beaverton as a Child and Family Art Therapist. Her art tables will remain a fixture at vaccine and community resource events. Staff members have also come together to create pieces since agency offices reopened.

“I think it’s going to keep growing,” said Alison, who did her undergraduate work at Linfield University. The goal? “To restore that sense of connection we have lost over the last couple of years.”

There were around 70 pieces at last count, combining for a roughly 4-by-5-foot puzzle so far. Alison plans to mount the puzzle on the wall of a Beaverton conference room in summer 2022.

While the puzzle is open to all ages, it revolves around children. Isolated for months, they found a semblance of community in makeshift places like vaccine clinics, only to face a needle jab in the arm. “They would walk up to the table with tears rolling from their eyes, and within minutes they were so into the art, they had forgotten the pain,” Alison said.

The puzzle has added a new element to LCS Northwest’s behavioral health and medical case management services, which were crucial during the pandemic but had to adapt. “Alison’s project has shown that the act of love comes in different shapes,” said Dalia Baadarani, Associate Clinical Director in the Portland area. “The intentional inclusivity of the puzzle project has unified diverse cultures and created pathways to community healing.”