Whenever we give directions to the Danbury offices, we generally tell people to look for “the big, yellow building with the hands on it.” This is quickly followed by a light bulb moment and an, “Oh! I know where that is!”
It was a volunteer’s sincere question that inspired those colorful hands we have become so well known for. Spread throughout our campus, they can be seen in obvious places like decorating the outside of our big, yellow clinic as well as playfully scattered throughout the grounds and buildings. These colorful, artsy hands are embedded into the concrete of the walkway, tucked in corners of waiting rooms, and enlivening walls.
There is a special place where over 1,100 of them can be found – climbing up a wall and hanging from the ceiling of the Memory Room. Each hand in this room was individually decorated and inscribed by volunteers with the first name of a child who spent at least one night with us, in a group home or safe home. The hands are updated annually to include all of the children we’ve cared for the previous year. Volunteers from GE will lead that effort again this September.
The hands hang as silent, but very visible reminders for staff, visitors and volunteers of what we have accomplished and why we are still here. They remind us that we’re in this together and that the challenges the kids face can be better remedied through our collective efforts. They also give a continued voice to children who often came here feeling invisible, unwanted and unimportant. Here, at FCA, you mattered. Here, you were cared for. Here, even if for only a night, you had a safe place to rest.
The hands were the brainchild of a GE volunteer who, during Week of Caring in 2006, wondered if there was a way we could recognize all the children who stayed with us. Because of privacy and therapeutic issues, there are so many things we cannot do to recognize the children. We cannot make scrapbooks of them, paint portraits, put up plaques, or even write about them, except vaguely, and intentionally anonymously to obscure their specific identities. We understand why…they are here to heal. Their wellness is our number one priority. Our need to know them, to celebrate them, to share them publicly, overwhelms and frustrates us sometimes, but it is our need, not theirs.
They need to feel safe. To have anonymity so when they grow up, and live those healthy lives we work so diligently to help them attain, they are not immortalized as children who once were "victims of...". It is not about stigma; it is about freedom. The freedom to choose their own futures, as we so often say, instead of having their futures dictated by the traumas they have experienced.
These single hands were created to honor them…all the children who we’ve touched and who have touched us. Honored, simply, quietly, and beautifully in the shape of a small, paper hand hanging from a ceiling and running down the wall. Disguised as colorful decorations, they lend an air of fun and playfulness to the room. But we know, and now you know, why they are really there.