Archives for posts with tag: Rachel’s heART
Rachel’s heART, through it’s parent organization Voices of the Children, is offering Capoeira inKampala, Uganda!Partnering with Einstein Rising , a business accelerator for Africa’s social entrepreneurs, Voices of the Children Volunteers Munair Simpson and Nick Damski will join Alexis Chavez of Einstein Rising to lead a Capoeira workshop for youth.  Capoeira is a martial art that combines elements of fight, acrobatics, music, dance and rituals in a very elegant and magnetic way, giving the body physical strength, power and flexibility and

giving the mind self-confidence, courage and creativity.

The workshops will provide safe spaces and community development as well as a platform to talk about vital issues such as HIV awareness, abuse and poverty as well as other challenges they face on a daily basis.

For this first trip in October 2019, our goal is to develop a sustainable program that will continue for years to come, just as our programs with Syrian refugee youth in Amman, Jordan continue with great success.

This workshop is named after Rachel Damski, mother of Hollywood filmmaker and Voices of the Children board member Mel Damski.  Rachel escaped the holocaust as a teenager. At the age of 80, she began to paint for the first time.  It benefited her life in indescribable ways and helped release trauma she had been carrying in her psyche for many decades.  Rachel lived until 94 and left behind a legacy and a sense of optimism that everyone, especially youth, would benefit from, no matter the challenges they face.

Rachel's heART black and white

I grew up being told that Real Men don’t cry.

So I am definitely not a Real Man.

My wife likes to tease me about how often I cry .  She says it dismissively, as if to say she isn’t going to worry too much about my state of mind just because there are tears streaming down my cheeks.

She’s not wrong.  Recently I cried three times in one day.  The first was while listening to a news report on NPR about a young American man who was being released in a coma after being held captive in Korea for two years.  He tragically died soon after he arrived back home.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine the mixed emotions his parents are experiencing.

The second was a story in the newspaper about a baby that was born unable to breathe on his own.  His mother would not accept that fate and insisted on several operations that even the doctors said were useless.  Years later, this young man was graduating from medical school and I cried tears of happiness.

Later that day, I was talking to my friend Jenny at Cafe Ristretto, her coffee shop and wine bar in Mount Vernon, about the mural that we are creating in my mother’s honor as part of our Rachel’s heART program.  I recounted that my Rachel lived through the Holocaust, never really had an education or much of a teen hood, started painting in her 80’s, and even sold one of her works at a LaConner gallery.

When I got to the part that my Mom died two years ago…..Jenny could see it coming and I started to lose it and couldn’t finish my story.

I walked outside to gather my composure and managed to get it together enough to go back in and tell Jenny the rest of Rachel’s amazing story—how she is smiling in heaven now knowing we are creating a wonderful work of art in my home county celebrating the contributions immigrants and refugees have made to making this a great country.

This is the second year that we are offering Rachel’s heART to teens at the Oasis Shelter in Mount Vernon.  It’s an art therapy program that encourages them to find creative ways of dealing with many of the challenging issues in their young lives.

We raised $2500 through a crowd funding program online which will help pay for the course and the subsequent mural.

The incredible Benjamin Swatez will teach the course again and the following week he will start on a very large mural on the huge wall on the south side of Cafe Ristretto facing the US Bank parking lot.

Ben has done art therapy with Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan through Voices of the Children, a wonderful organization based in Mount Vernon.   The collaboration between Skagit kids and Syrian kids has resulted in a beautiful mural at Skagit College and an amazing one at the refugee camp in Jordan.  Ben has done art therapy with child sex slaves and child soldiers in Africa, and recently finished another big mural in Santa Cruz, California.

With the cooperation of the Mayor, the town business association, the bank and the coffee house, we are going to have a beautiful mural celebrating the likes of Albert Einstein, the Hollywood moguls, and the immigrant farmers and the migrant farm workers who have played such a significant role in the beauty and economy of the Skagit Valley.

Yesterday I got an email from a close friend who grew up in Mount Vernon but now lives in Denver.  He told an old high school friend about the mural and his friend went to the Oasis shelter to see what he could do to help.

When he saw the size of the wall, he got together with a buddy and offered a fork lift for the week as a donation.   More tears of joy!!!

I can’t even begin to imagine what emotions will be running through my heart and mind when the mural is finished but the word sob comes immediately to mind!


When I called my Mom to tell her that one of her paintings had just sold at a Gallery in La Conner, she was overjoyed.

Rachel was in her early 90’s and hadn’t started painting until she was in her 80’s.

Why?  A little thing called the Holocaust had basically robbed her of her childhood, especially in her teen years, when she was denied an education and had to heroically focus on getting all of the paperwork done to get her parents and younger brother the papers they needed to get to America before the scheisse hit the fan.

My mother’s heroics are documented in my Uncle Harry Rosenfeld’s wonderful memoire, From Kristallnacht to Watergate.  While Rachel had to help run her parents fur shop in New York, Harry, nine years younger, was able to finish his education and he eventually became Woodward and Bernstein’s editor at the Washington Post.

Rachel passed away two years ago, after having an incredibly productive life, and my siblings and I wanted to honor her life and legacy with an art therapy class for refugee kids.  I was introduced to a remarkable young man, Benjamin Swatez, who had just returned to the Skagit Valley from  the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Amman Jordan.

Benjamin has had a remarkable life for a man in his mid-thirties, having done trauma art therapy with child soldiers and sex slaves in Africa as well as kids in the slums of many Latin American countries.

Working with Voices of the Children, a non-profit organization based in Skagit Valley, Benjamin started designing a mural at Laventure Middle School in Mount Vernon and took it to Za’atari for those kids to finish and then reversed it, starting a mural in Za’atari that finished here in the Skagit Valley.  Those murals are now living in a museum in San Diego, California.

Last year, working through Voices of the Children, we launched Rachel’s heART at the Oasis Shelter in Mount Vernon and focused on trauma therapy through small art projects. My sister Janice and brother Peter and I used the last funds that Rachel left behind to fund the program.

After its resounding success, we decided to expand the program this summer which will result in a mural in downtown Mount Vernon celebrating the contributions that immigrants have made to this country, with tremendous support from Mayor Jill Boudreau and the Mount Vernon Downtown Association.

We are starting a fundraising drive this week through the Voices of the Children website,, and any contributions can be designated to Rachel’s heART and are fully tax deductible.

Mom was already smiling in heaven this week as the USO in Palm Springs created a poster including a picture of Rachel, a 90-year-old volunteer, putting a stitch in the 911 Flag that toured the country.  Rachel is now the Poster Child featured along with Bob Hope on a donated Mercedes Benz that is tooling around the desert.

An enduring mural in Mount Vernon celebrating the lives and contributions of immigrants like herself just may send her over the moon.