The pandemic has been a time of stress for people everywhere. And Poetry Heals has reached out with ways for people to express in writing how they’re feeling, for them to know that’s OK.

During this time of uncertainty and fear, the trauma- therapy nonprofit adapted to something new, expanding their creative help in place for teen trauma survivors, the homeless, veterans and those in recovery for addictions.

Leading the program is Molly Wingate, who has taught writing at high school and college levels and directed the Writing Center at Colorado College.

She’s a writing coach, a ghost writer and a published writer specializing in essays who wrote the story of Venetucci Farm. The mother of two grown sons, her writing includes “slow parenting teens,” described as developing relationships in positive, respectful and fun ways.

Working with local writers Molly Gross and Ann Davenport, Wingate was inspired by Seattle’s Pongo Teen Writing for juveniles in detention. As Pongo describes itself, this is the place for the teens to express themselves, “to write from the heart about who you are as a person.”

Poetry Heals was born five years ago and has a trained, paid staff of writing mentors who can deploy where specialized therapeutic writing is needed. Poetry Heals takes writing to where people are hurting, Wingate explains.

Even when challenged with COVID-19 protocols over 2020, Poetry Heals had 420 program participants in some socially distanced in-person but mainly virtual workshops.

Through a revamped website, a Caring for Caregivers for essential workers, first responders, teachers and those caring for others has had 760 online visitors who downloaded 439 work sheets. It is, says Wingate, “a response to the stress and trauma COVID-19 is placing on medical people, first respondents, and essential workers.” Just knowing Poetry Heals is available “helped people who are having a hard time,” said Wingate. (poetryheals.org/caregivers)

There are, said Wingate, real-time poetry workshops, fill-in-the-blank poems, writing prompts and one-on-one writing workshops. All online, available at any time.

The group’s traditional summer project Poetry and Pottery was moved to fall as Poetry ON Pottery. Well-known potter Mark Wong taught via video and participants received 150 balls of clay to form into bases on which to write words or poems. The new potters returned the pieces to be glazed and fired. Poetry ON Pottery 2021 is planned for spring.

With help from Poetry Heals mentors, the community’s homeless are encouraged to write their words from the heart in “A Place to Write” booklets, a project Wingate hopes “will bring some joy during the pandemic.” The plan is to publish the poetry and words in a collection, “The COVID Chronicles.”

During the pandemic, Poetry Heals has worked with incarcerated youths through videoconferencing. In addition, they are partnering with the TESSA domestic violence and sexual-assault prevention nonprofit, Military Arts Connection, Military Transition Center and Westside CARES. There are continuing workshops with LGBTQ+ youth at Inside Out Youth Services. When it was open, there was time in the library with homeless young people just talking, playing word games and having snacks before writing about challenges such as “if you were going to tell the mayor something, what would that be?”

“If we made it through 2020, I think we’re here to stay,” said Wingate with a smile. “The pandemic has done a lot of damage.”

Other groups are suggesting ideas or asking for help where there is need, isolation and distress and the Poetry Heals website has tripled its traffic over 2019. The contact: poetryheals.org.

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