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Bay Arts Alliance Bringing Stars of HOPE® to Bay County Hurricane Survivors



Media contacts:

Dixie Clough / Bay Arts Alliance / dixie@bayarts.org / 202-560-2773

Stephanie Wray / Stars of HOPE® / stephanie@starsofhopeusa.org / 469-556-3965

Sharon Michalik / Bay County School District / michasj@bay.k12.fl.us / 850-767-4278

Bay Arts Alliance Bringing Stars of HOPE®

to Bay County Hurricane Survivors

PANAMA CITY, Florida (January 21, 2019) – Bay Arts Alliance is bringing international healing arts program, Stars of HOPE®, to Bay County on February 1 and 2. On February 1, almost 1,500 5th grade students at 19 schools across the county will participate in the program, and on February 2, the public will have a chance to paint their own stars at the Panama City Center for the Arts from 10am–2pm.

Stars of HOPE® is a therapeutic arts program that was created after 9/11 by the New York Says Thank You Foundation. Participants paint 12” x 12” wooden stars with messages of hope that they then send on to disaster sites in need of those messages.

Because so many stars will be painted in Bay County, the stars painted by the 5th grade classes will be hung in some of the hardest hit parts of the county to help bring hope to our residents as we continue to rebuild. Stars painted at the public paint at the Center for the Arts will be sent on to future disaster sites.

“After the hurricane, we knew that we wanted to do something healing that incorporated art. We reached out to the Florida Art Therapy Association and they connected us to Stars of HOPE®. Around the same time the school system contacted us wanting to participate in the program. We were excited to have the opportunity to expand the program to include children across the county because they were just as impacted by the storm and its aftermath as the adults,” said Jennifer Jones, Executive Director of Bay Arts Alliance.

“The schools were looking for a creative outlet for students to help them deal with their Hurricane Michael experiences and when we learned that Bay Arts was working with Stars of HOPE®, we knew they’d be great partners because we’ve worked with them on Arts projects before,” said Ashley Williams, Bay County Association of Art Teachers President.

“More than ever, the art classrooms in Bay County have become a place of refuge and therapeutic healing. The lives our our students and our families have been turned upside-down,” Ashley continued. “We have the highest population of homeless and displaced students that we have ever seen.  Our students are dealing with the stress of moving, destroyed homes, parents losing jobs, and all the emotions that come with those traumatic experiences. Our goal is to not only use Stars of HOPE® to help heal our students but our entire community as well.”

That may seem like a tall order for one program, but Stars of HOPE® has helped communities across the nation, and around the world, find healing after a disaster.

“A program like this that combines art, healing, and community outreach has the ability to make a real difference in people’s lives,” notes Jayson Kretzer, Director of the Panama City Center for the Arts. “In places across the country where they’ve hung stars—after tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires—people have said that these stars have been bright lights for them as they pick up the pieces of their lives and rebuild. We hope that they can do the same for the people across Bay County.”

“We want to remind our community that we’re in this together and that people across the country are thinking about them and want to help them heal,” continued Jayson, “Simply bringing this program to Bay County has brought together many such people. The New York Says Thank You Foundation, the American Art Therapy Association, the Florida Art Therapy Association, and Colart supply have been unbelievably generous partners in getting this program here. We’re still looking for a local sponsor, so if anyone is interested in being a part of this project, we’d love to hear from them!”

According to the Stars of HOPE® program, the Bay County school and public paints will be the largest group of people to ever participate in the program at one event.

“We’re breaking records here,” said Stephanie Wray, Stars of HOPE® Program Manager, “Which, of course, makes sense when you think about the size and strength of Hurricane Michael. Our hearts broke when we learned the enormity of the devastation, and we’re very honored that Bay Arts reached out to bring our program to so many residents in the county.

“We’re also very lucky that you have one of the best art therapy programs in the country right next door in Tallahassee,” Stephanie continued, “We’ve been working with the art therapy students at FSU, and many of them are coming over to help out at the schools and at the Center for the Arts.”

On February 3, the Stars of HOPE® program and Bay Arts Alliance will hang the stars painted by the 5th graders in public places in some of the hardest hit areas of the county.

While the county will soon see stars pop up around their neighborhoods, residents can also join in to create stars for others in need. The Panama City Center for the Arts is hosting a public Stars of HOPE® program on February 2, where anyone in community can come in to paint their own stars featuring messages of hope. The stars painted during this public program won’t stay in the county, but instead they will be sent on to other disaster sites to bring hope to those going through similar experiences.

“The original plan was to bring the Stars of HOPE® program to Bay County sooner, but we delayed because the timing wasn’t right,” said Dixie Clough, Marketing and PR, Bay Arts Alliance. “Now there’s been enough distance to process what happened and the community is in a better place to help others in similar situations.”

“We hope that everyone comes to our public event on Saturday, February 2, to paint a star because there are others across the country, and the world, who have recently been through a disaster and could use positive thoughts and a reminder that others are thinking of them,” she added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re an artist or not, because it’s not about your art skills. It’s about spreading hope to others in need.

“We’re calling it ‘painting it forward’. So many people have helped, and are still helping, our community. It’s time to pay that help forward in paint.”


Schools Participating


  • Deer Point Elementary
  • Breakfast Point Academy
  • Patronis Elementary
  • Tommy Smith
  • Hiland Park Elementary
  • St. Andrew School
  • Beach Elementary
  • West Bay Elementary
  • Lynn Haven Elementary
  • Waller Elementary
  • Bay Haven Charter
  • Southport Elementary
  • Parker/Patterson Elementary
  • M. Cherry Street Elementary
  • University Academy
  • Northside Elementary
  • Cedar Grove Elementary
  • Margaret K. Lewis
  • Bozeman


Stars of HOPE®

Stars of HOPE® USA is the world’s largest and fastest growing healing arts program. They are a unique disaster response and community arts program empowering people to transform communities impacted by natural and human-caused disasters by creating and displaying colorful art and messages of hope and healing. In 2007, Stars of HOPE®started with two families – the Parness family in New York who wanted to pay-it-forward for the love New York City received from people all around the world following 9/11. And the Vincent family from Groesbeck, Texas who wanted to pay-it-forward for the support they received when New York Says Thank You volunteers rebuilt their home following a deadly tornado. Today, with the help of over 90,000 volunteers, Stars of HOPE have transformed 220 communities in 26 countries impacted by disaster and tragedy with messages of hope, healing and resilience.

A recent impact study conducted at Florida State University about the Stars of HOPE program found 84% of participants felt supported and hopeful, 75% felt comforted and connected to others. 92% of participants agreed they felt more optimistic about the future and 100% of participants agreed that Stars of HOPE positively impacts peoples lives, helps affected communities recover emotionally from disaster and tragedy.

Bay District Schools

Bay District Schools currently serves more than 23,000 students … approximately 3,000 of whom meet the federal definition of being homeless since they have no fixed address since the storm.  Despite the devastating damage, which left no campus or school building untouched, the more than 4,000 employes of the school system continue to deliver high-quality educational services to students in pre-k through adult programs. The passion, commitment and dedication of these employees have ensured that the children and families of Bay County are able to begin the healing process with familiar faces and school schedules as the foundation of hope and positive outcomes.  Through partnerships with area agencies, BDS employees are supporting local families in every aspect of the healing process with a clear goal of rebuilding a brighter future for everyone.

Florida Art Therapy Association

The Florida Art Therapy Association advocates for expansion of access to professional art therapists and leads the state in the advancement of art therapy as a regulated mental health & Human Service Profession. We provide information, resources, and meaningful networking opportunities to its members and the public.

Recently FATA has worked to support devastated communities providing art therapy support to survivors of hurricanes and mass violence. FATA has provided art therapy to displaced families in the aftermath of hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Irma in Naples and on Marathon Key. FATA also has provided art therapy interventions to the surrounding community of the pulse night club tragedy the Stoneman Douglas shootings and the Yoga shooting in Tallahassee Florida.  The Florida art therapy association continues to work with its members to provide art therapy services to communities in need.

Bay Arts Alliance

Since 1978, Bay Arts Alliance has served as the local arts agency for Bay County and provides opportunities for cultural enrichment through broad based educational experiences, music & arts programs, exhibitions, and events. Its mission is to inspire a lifelong appreciation of the Arts. We are committed to responding to the ever-changing needs of the community, supporting innovation, and connecting endeavors of all arts organizations. Bay Arts Alliance has brought countless national touring performances to the area and is the primary force behind the annual Backstage Pass concert series at the Marina Civic Center. Bay Arts Alliance also hosts the Very Special Arts Festival for exceptional children, and its Arts in Education Program provides many cultural opportunities for Bay County schools and non-profit organizations at no charge—serving over 10,000 children annually.

Panama City Center for the Arts

Panama City Center for the Arts is the art center in the center of downtown Panama City housed in the beautiful 1925 City Hall building. Panama City Center for the Arts is managed by the nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable arts agency of Bay County—Bay Arts Alliance. In the Center for the Arts, Bay Arts Alliance provides visitors and the local community with creative enrichment through monthly art shows and exhibitions, films, concerts, educational art classes for all ages, and special focus classes for Bay County school trips. The facility and grounds are under the ownership of the City of Panama City.


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