Creating a Bright Space at the Texas Border – Determining the Design and Content
by Ileen Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces
When Bright Horizons CEO Stephen Kramer committed to making a difference for the migrant families in McAllen, Texas, through creating a special Bright Space, I was honored to be charged with determining how best to utilize our resources and generosity to have an impact on these children. My focus and goal is to create a Bright Space to replenish their joy and that allows them to return, if just for a few hours, to their deserved childhood.
Looking over the scant and disorganized toys in the corner, culled from donations over many months, I knew that there was work here I could assist with. Over nearly 20 years, the Bright Spaces program has helped hundreds of volunteers design trauma informed Bright Spaces in a variety of settings and locations across the United States. We have the knowledge and expertise to help children experiencing the toxic stress of poverty, homelessness, and now detention and family separation.
I started by talking to the incredible staff and volunteers from around the world who have come to offer their heartfelt life skills to support the efforts here in McAllen. I was moved to tears by the commitment, generosity, and insight of these volunteers who have selflessly stopped the wheels of their lives to see how they can help.
When the children arrive, they are fearful at first. Holding the hand of their mother, father, or sibling, they looked around the room with cautious hope. I observed the children at play, talking with them through translators. Hungry for all of the childhood pleasures, they used stubs of crayons to create pictures of love, home, and family, and shared them in a heartfelt way with the adults and myself to say, I love you. They built towers, houses, and cars with the leftover pieces of broken toys. Remembering the homes they left – the ‘vaca’, the ‘casa’, the’ gato’ – and still dreaming rainbows in future homes they have yet to be allowed to discover. I was struck by the inherent resilience of childhood shining through in their faces.
After my conversations and observations with the children, and applying what science and experience has taught us about how to mitigate this trauma in some small way, I chose to focus on the things I know can help children experiencing trauma in a play space such as:
- familiar toys and activities, so they can experience success and the calm of familiarity,
- items and designs that will help build a sense of safety and security, and
- a design that supports building strong supportive relationships by encouraging interactions with caring adults, family, staff, and volunteers who can show in the moment that they sincerely care about the child.
As I head back to Texas to install and create this Bright Space, I will be joined by a dozen committed Bright Horizons and Foundation volunteers from across the company. We will be doing more than just creating the Humanitarian Respite Center Restoring Dignity Bright Space; we will be creating an opportunity for the children and youth to build their self-awareness, reminding them who they still are despite their circumstance, and lastly, to create a space that allows them to open their minds to the possibilities of who they might yet still become.