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Meet Erika, Director of the Healing Arts Program

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

Meet Erika Pappas, who is building our mental health and wellness program and working with youth leaders to create safe, connective spaces that support healing from trauma.

“In the last agency I worked for part of my job was to manage community partnerships and our work with the Sunset Family Resource Center (SFRC), a collaborative with other community agencies. I was introduced to SYS, another member of the SFRC, and worked closely with Dawn, Maria, and Carrie. I fell in love with SYS, so when Dawn extended the offer to work here, I couldn’t say no.”

Working Collaboratively on Domestic Violence Prevention and Awareness

Erika’s degrees are in Marriage and Family Therapy and Art Therapy and she’s currently completing the credentialing for licensure. She worked at Safe and Sound for 8 years, at first interning as a clinician and Safety Educator in which she visited most of San Francisco’s elementary schools to talk about body empowerment and bullying. Eventually she became a Safe Start Manager, coordinating programs that supported families and children in domestic violence (DV) situations. Her work eventually led to managing the Department on the Status of Women, which incorporated DV prevention and awareness in job-readiness training and included working collaboratively with partner agencies across all sectors.

A Holistic Approach that Celebrates Diversity

“I think SYS is one of the most authentic agencies I’ve come into contact with. SYS looks at community holistically, considering the inequities and institutional structures that do harm. Our approach is relational, very creative, and all about meeting people where they’re at. My past training provided a clinical approach: you see problems and try to fix them. It’s all about, “how do we normalize you?” SYS is not about normalizing anyone but about accepting people and celebrating their individuality, and the diversity of individuals. It’s one of the things I value most about our work.”

Creating Spaces Where Empowerment, Resilience and Hope Can Flourish

“My vision is to create a space in which youth and families can express themselves and process their experiences without shame, a space in which any identity can flourish. In this context art can be a healing tool used for communication, advocacy, rights, and connection. The trauma we’ve experienced or inflicted on others is not all that defines us. Creating spaces to share our stories of empowerment, resilience, and hope gives us the opportunity to exist outside of an incarcerated identity. I believe that youth and families have all the answers inside of them.”

Supporting Young People and Frontline Workers During Pandemic

Many things are amplified by the pandemic: inequity, access to resources, and trauma. Healing Arts groups that Erika offers help vulnerable young people return to the resilience inside of themselves by imagining the kind of world they want to live in––and how they personally might help to create that.

These online sessions are co-lead with youth leaders and include:

Rewriting Our Stories: a creative writing group for youth to tap into their own stories of empowerment, resilience and hope in the midst of instability and stress.

Shelter from the Storm: a twice weekly virtual support group for young people incorporating simple yoga movements, mindfulness practices, and creative expression to foster self-awareness, emotional regulation, and well-being.

Heart Space: This live-stream invites young people to make art while engaging in conversation about issues of the day––providing a safe space and creative processing time for things that are on their minds and in their hearts.

Additionally, Erika offers support for agency partners and frontline workers in an Essential Workers Support Group.

Want to learn more about our Healing Arts Program? Read more here.

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