“With Brave Wings, She Flies,” reads the artwork that hangs above the soft gray glider rocker in the corner of this cozy room, which is painted a serene, light olive green with accents of blue and violet.
This is a special place. A space designed for tranquility, healing and calmness.
The women who visit this room have experienced suffering, pain and trauma. They are survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. Many struggle with past drug or alcohol addictions.
Up to 10 women can live in this 5,000-square-foot home at an undisclosed location in Nebraska, sponsored by Rejuvenating Women, a faith-based nonprofit organization designed to help these women recover and begin new lives.
The sensory room – which gives these women a comfortable, relaxing spot to meditate and relieve stress and anxiety – was developed by Creighton University occupational therapy professor Andrea Thinnes, OTD, and several of her students.
“It’s a beautiful space,” Thinnes says.
The design of the room and the items in it were thoughtfully chosen to foster a sense of calmness and relaxation, with a goal of positively affecting the mind, body and spirit of the women entering the space.
For example, with the paint, the shade of green has been shown to elicit feelings of quietness and restfulness; blue, peace and relaxation; and violet, balance and inner peace.
“The rocking chair is really good for the vestibular system and proprioception, which is essentially balance and where your body is in space in relationship to other things,” Thinnes says.
Other items include a balance board, yoga mat, stress balls, exercise bands, plants, lava lamps, bean-bag chairs, sensory oils and an oil diffuser, a memory foam pillow, adult coloring books and a CD player.
“There is also a night-sky projector, so they can lie on their back or sit in the chair and look up at the projection of the stars on the wall or on the ceiling,” Thinnes says. “You turn that on, shut the blinds and put on (a CD) of nature sounds. That can be very calming.
“There’s just a wide variety to address the different senses.”
Thinnes first got involved with Rejuvenating Women last October as a volunteer, assisting with fundraising, but she soon saw that her occupational therapy expertise could benefit the residents.
“The women that I worked with, I saw that there was a need for developing those coping strategies – when you are feeling anxious, when you are restless and you know that you need to sleep but you are afraid,” Thinnes says.
She also saw an opportunity to get her students involved, and solicited their interest. They jumped at the opportunity. Twenty-one students agreed to volunteer, including two from Creighton’s Alaska pathway program. The distance students helped with budgeting and other duties that could be done from afar. “That was really cool,” Thinnes says.
With approval from Rejuvenating Women and a grant from the student government for the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, Thinnes and her students went to work in late spring and early summer developing plans for the room and turning it into a reality.
The room was finished in late June. The team also developed two mobile sensory kits, which the women can use when visiting with counselors or driving to appointments.
The home – which is called Restored Wings – is open to any woman 19 years of age or older who is a survivor of any form of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Women come to the program from Nebraska and across the United States, and can stay for up to two years. Most are out in two or three months, Thinnes says. While there, the women receive in-depth counseling, case management and free legal services. The residents pay no rent or fees, but it is encouraged that they work or go to school while living in the home.
Thinnes, who teaches a course on exploring spirituality in OT practice, feels like she was divinely inspired to assist with the program.
“I was drawn to volunteer for this organization because of its mission,” she says. “Once I got there, I felt like I was connecting with these women, one by one. They were oftentimes right around my same age, and some have children, although they are not with them.
“I felt a connection as a woman and as a mother. To be able to help in any way that I could, I felt very much that God was calling me.”
Thinnes is excited to continue working with the program and to involve her students – sharing their knowledge and talents so that brave wings may take flight.