Success Story: Katherine and Ethan - Artists for Trauma

AFT provides trauma survivors a means to heighten their awareness, creativity and engagement by pairing them with an artist from an art discipline that speaks to their heart. Here are some success stories.

Katherine and Ethan

Katherine Berke and Etan Boritzer

UPDATE: Katherine’s story has recently been featured in the Ventura County Star and the Thousand Oaks Acorn. She is recovering from her jaw surgery at the end of February. If you would like to keep updated on her progress, you can follow her blog, written by her family.

Katherine Berke suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in 2003, which has left her needing 24-hour care, primarily provided by her mother, who had to leave her job in 2004 as a result. Katherine’s injury leaves her constantly vacillating between highs and lows. Her mother says, “She is not a bad person; she lives with the effects of severe TBI. A side of her is sweet, caring and loving, the other mean, abusive and destructive.”

Dr. Grace Lee, noted Agoura Hills, California physician, referred Katherine and her mother to Artists for Trauma and first met with AFT Founder Laura Sharpe in 2012.

“Last July, we had the honor to meet Laura at our home. It felt like an angel entered our lives. She emanates love, kindness, understanding and care. After meeting with Kate to find out what kind of art form she might be interested to use for her healing recovery, Laura had just the right artist in mind: Etan Boritzer, also an accomplished author.” Etan Boritzer is the author and publisher of the best-selling “What is?” children’s books series on character education and difficult topics. His books have been published in 15 languages, and he is regularly invited to speak at “Author Days” at elementary schools around the country.

After Artists for Trauma facilitated the artist-student pairing, Katherine began creating greeting cards, which Etan helps her edit, while being careful to retain the original quality of Katherine’s work. Even now, outside of the initial 10 sessions with Etan, Katherine and Etan communicate regularly, and Katherine is continuing to create her very special cards. They will be sold for $3 each in doctors’ offices, hair salons and other establishments throughout Ventura County to help pay for her ongoing medical bills.

“In a way, it’s exciting,” Katherine said. “I release my frustrations and put that energy into the card’s creation.”

Etan said of their work together, “Katherine and I both had fun in communicating ideas back and forth, and setting down her writing professionally. We came up with some great final work that I know truly pleased her and gave her a sense of accomplishment. The experience was wonderful and educational. I felt that I gave of my writing talents and helped to contribute to Katherine’s pride and sense of self-worth. Katherine gave me a lot in terms of her appreciation and delight in working together. The experience that AFT provides to artists and survivors is tremendously rewarding for both parties.”

Etan also added that working with Katherine taught him to be more grateful for his own life. “One has to practice gratitude every day. You can be going about your normal day, and boom!,something can change your life forever.”

Katherine will be undergoing another jaw surgery at the end of February, which noted physician, Dr. Michael Gunson of Santa Barbara, will be performing at no charge, after connecting with Artists for Trauma.

Artists for Trauma Volunteer Artists

AFT volunteer Artists give their time and creativity, but equally as vital, they share their spirit with our Level 1 Trauma survivors. As Artists for Trauma is about creation and re-creating lives, we refer to our trauma survivors as student artists. They are learning new skills and new ways to create new versions of themselves. Once paired with one of our volunteer artists, the participating student participates in ten, two hour sessions in their chosen area of interest. All required supplies are provided by AFT.


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