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'We need to save them mentally': Uvalde library kicks off summer of healing

Face painting, popcorn and more for kids still grieving.

UVALDE, Texas — The El Progreso Library in Uvalde may have been the noisiest place in town Tuesday.

All day long, nobody told anyone to be quiet.

From the parking lot, where a barrel train rumbled around the grounds all day long, to the squeals of shock related to a magic show, kids of all ages were able to escape from days of distress in a lively event to kick off the library's summer reading program.

Organizers say this summer they will be about far more than books.

Volunteer Lorena Auguste said "All of us have had to re-evaluate and restructure our whole lives, and that's impossible to do in one week.  And we thought we can't just let them stay at home.  We can't just let the parents carry on emotionally. We need to keep the engaged."

Auguste said she got the idea to go big with the summer program while talking with a friend who was using arts and crafts to help her daughter cope with the trauma of the last week.

"She said 'I have to distract her,'  and I thought a positive distraction.  You know?  Focus on something else! What if we did this on a bigger scale?" Auguste said.  

Credit: KENS 5

Auguste said face painting, magic tricks, popcorn making and more all help establish a sense of new normal.

"It doesn't mean that life is over. We're showing them that yes, life still goes on. That through these small little creative processes, they're learning to process their own ideas, their own feelings and thoughts. They're learning that it is okay to express themselves," Auguste said.

A mom named Nan was delighted to find her young son transformed into a tiger by a face painter.

Nan said "It's a sad time right now and it's nice to get out and have people here that help the kiddos see there is still light and happiness and our community can survive this."

Nan said she has been bringing her kids to the library for years, but this year feels more important than ever.

"It's pretty fun here and I feel totally safe and it's such a special place for kids and a great escape from tv and the sadness everyone is feeling in their homes right now," Nan said.

Auguste said the special activities planned for the summer will help both kids and adults.

"Parents are encouraged to come to all the activities!  This didn't just happen to your children.  It happened to you too!" Auguste said.

As memorial services continue for the 21 people who died one week ago, Auguste said even though the immediate crisis is over, now is the time to look to the future and work on showing kids how to heal.

"We saved them physically but now we need to save them mentally and emotionally.  That is so crucial, because they are our future!  They can't be carrying this emotional baggage and drama for the next 10, 15, 20 years and then they end up doing something terrible because they shoved it down," Auguste said.

The theme of the El Progreso Memorial Library summer reading program is "Oceans of Possibilities."  A giant cloth octupus is suspended from the ceiling in the kid's area, and child art hangs around a bright, colorful space.  

In addition to the plans already in place, they have added a new campaign they are calling The Los Angelitos Robb Memorial Fund, for people who want to support their efforts after the shooting at the elementary school last week.

The library website said any resources donated between now and July 1 will be added to a fund to help children.

Donations will be used to acquire books, programs, activities and performances that will benefit kids left vulnerable by recent events.

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