The NAN Project has been fortunate to work with the staff and students of Phoenix Academy since the spring of 2017. Our most recent project is a mural created by their Peer Leadership Team, known as NANix, and has been an especially inspiring and healing opportunity for us all. (To read about Peer Leadership and our Peer-to-Peer Model, check out What We Do.)
Phoenix has hosted several peer mentor presentations of comeback stories to their students, as well as staff training in QPR suicide prevention. Last June, we met with a group of students who were interested in becoming more involved and promoting mental health in their school and in their community. Since its founding, this group of students, who decided on the name NANix (a combination of NAN Project and Phoenix Academy) has brought energy and big ideas to the table. We founded NANix, set up some goals for the next school year, and were excited to meet up again once classes began after summer break.
In September, one of the founding members of NANix, Leonel “Leo” Rondon, was lost in the gas explosions of Merrimack Valley. When we came together again as a group, Phoenix students expressed their desire to work on a project that would both honor Leo and celebrate their community’s resilience and ability to support each other, even through incredible struggle. They chose to paint a mural.
For this kind of project, we had to enlist the help of Art Therapist Fernanda from Lawrence Art House (LA House.) With her guidance, students were soon encouraging each other to contribute to the mural and taking ownership of the creative decisions and direction of their piece.
Over the course of a few months, we transitioned from brainstorming about the purpose of the mural, to sketching elements, to choosing quotes and reference material, and finally beginning to layer paint on the canvas. All throughout this process, students displayed incredible teamwork, respect for each other, and openness to each other’s ideas and feelings. Though creating a mural was an entirely new experience for many of the students, as well as for our own Peer Mentors, we were all able to witness the therapeutic power of art.
The final mural design encompasses a landscape of Lawrence, complete with the Ayer Clock Tower and Merrimack River, with a tree symbolizing regrowth on its banks. A banner flies from the clock tower displaying a quote from Leo, “I was given this life because I was strong enough to live it.” which NANix chose this quote to honor him, and because it embodies their resiliency and perseverance, in the face of loss, trauma, anxiety and depression.
We are so grateful for the involvement of everyone who worked on the mural, from the students who came to school early to finish in time, to those who simply picked up a paintbrush and added a single spot of color.
We look forward to meeting with the NANix team again soon, and deciding on our next project together.