By Dianne Frances D. Powell
“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
These were the words by Martin Luther King, Jr., painted on a wooden star especially picked out by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) graduate students Naomi Nothdurft-Moeller, Tracy Reff and Ginger Mote. It was one of the stars the trio selected to give to two survivors of a recent school shooting in Indiana.
“All three of us … felt that this star definitely needed to go to one of the survivors. The healing message of hope from one of our country’s most influential leaders still holds relevance today,” Nothdurft-Moeller said.
Nothdurft-Moeller, a resident of South Bend, Reff of Valparaiso, and Mote of Kokomo found themselves in Noblesville last week hanging 200 individually-painted stars at a local park ahead of a fundraiser for the victims of the May 25 shooting at Noblesville West Middle School. They selected 10 more to be set aside for the survivors. With every stroke of paint on every wooden star, the graduate students in the Master of Arts in Art Therapy (MAAT) program sought to bring hope to the traumatized community.
It was a show of solidarity. “When I heard about the school shooting in Noblesville, my heart ached for all of the people in the community affected by the tragedy, especially the victims,” Nothdurft-Moeller said. “This year, there have been far too many tragedies that have affected communities all over our country and world. As a future art therapist, I want to help communities surrounding me by servicing those who have been affected by tragedies through the healing qualities of art therapy.”
This effort sprung from a connection made between Nothdurft-Moeller and 2017 SMWC graduate Stephanie Wray through MAAT’s Facebook community. Wray, who currently works as a corporate art therapy consultant at the non-profit organization Stars of HOPE, called for volunteers on Facebook in the days following the shooting. Nothdurft-Moeller responded.
Soon, she found herself collecting stars from New York, Texas and California (sent to her through Stars of HOPE), coordinating with the Noblesville Parks and Recreation Department about where they should go and assembling her peers to help with the effort. She even spent her own birthday money to purchase stars her classmates painted during a recent on-campus residency weekend.
Of the total 210 stars the Noblesville community saw at the Miller Fest benefit on July 17, a dozen was painted by MAAT students. During the campus painting event, Indianapolis resident Kelly McEwen painted red hearts on her star to express her support for Noblesville. She hopes those who see the star will feel love, happiness and a sense of community.
“When tragedies occur, there are always helpers,” Nothdurft-Moeller said. “Painting a star, spreading the message about Stars of HOPE, and hanging up the stars allowed me to be a helper. As an Ambassador for Stars of HOPE and as an art therapy graduate student at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, I felt a strong connection as I hung the stars with images and messages of healing and hope around the park.”
Wray said as “person on the ground,” Nothdurft-Moeller definitely took on a big job in coordinating the effort. She praised her initiative and passion, and was pleased to have been able to mentor an MAAT student. Because networking and mentorship are really important in the field of art therapy, she treasures her connection with and reliance on her MAAT family from all over the country, she said.
Wray added she is thankful for the opportunities presented in her graduate program that allowed her to become involved with Stars of HOPE as a student; this is work she’s been able to continue after graduation. Now, she is paying it forward. “It’s very important for students to understand how much of a difference they can make right now,” Wray said.
It’s about empowerment, a valuable gift that comes from The Woods to its students. “When I first met my MAAT graduate cohort, I knew that someday we would help impact communities through art therapy,” Nothdurft-Moeller said.
“That someday is happening sooner than expected. That someday is now.”