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Helping Our Youth Through The Hardest Times
12/31/2007 - By Cindi Westendorf

Helping Our Youth Through The Hardest Times

Cindi Westendorf

Cindi Westendorf, a lifelong resident of Colts Neck and licensed art therapist, is the Program Coordinator of two very special therapy efforts, Amanda’s Easel and the 2nd Floor Youth Help Line.

Each and every one of us has a special artistic ability. If you laugh at the thought of lifeless stick figures actually being considered art, you need to look beyond the big picture. What does your stick figure look like? Does it stand with a group of other stick people? Is your figure smiling? This type of psychological analysis, also known as art therapy, is actually very relevant and beneficial, allowing individuals to tap into hidden emotions and feelings they have otherwise stored away into a secret place in their mind. What is discovered has saved some very lost souls.

Cindi Westendorf, a lifelong resident of Colts Neck and licensed art therapist, is the Program Coordinator of two very special therapy efforts, Amanda’s Easel and the 2nd Floor Youth Help Line. Both programs are part of a larger organization in Monmouth County – 180, Turning Lives Around [www.180nj.org], a 30-year-old nonprofit group that works toward preventing and putting an end to domestic violence and sexual assault. Cindi was taught by her mother at a very young age to get out into the world and help others. Today, even after working in art therapy for over 23 years, she still loves coming to work every day. Many people do not even realize such a profession exists, though there are currently 120 licensed art therapists in the state of New Jersey. The career is not easy, but the rewards are priceless. “While I know I cannot erase wounds and emotional scars, I can certainly help to heal them, and that changes lives,” Cindi said.

Cindi, a mother of three sons, has poured many years, long hours, and hard work into making Amanda’s Easel a success, working together with a team of very dedicated therapists and volunteers. “It is where my heart truly lies, and last year we were blessed to be able to serve more than 80 parents and 110 children,” she expressed. The 11-year-old program, which was developed by the Wengert family of Manalapan (whose daughter Amanda was murdered in 1994), is run from two different studios in Keansburg. Mothers and their children are invited into a vibrant, friendly, and inspiring environment, and can choose to paint, sketch, collage, or sculpt whatever they like. Their artwork is observed by Cindi and the other staff mostly for the progression of how the piece came to be. “I am always fascinated by the mothers that come here who have never painted before and …create something so beautiful,” she said. “That ability to get past those insecurities about painting is crucial to dealing with some inner struggles a woman may be going through in her own life.”

When dealing with younger clients, an initial assessment is always conducted, asking children to draw a picture of their family doing something. The symbolism in such drawings can extract a ton of information for Cindi and her team – how does the child see him or herself? What kind of father figure is there? How are the child’s developmental skills? “Many of these children are surrounded by violence in the home and feel responsible, so my job is to pick out related patterns in their artwork after they attend for several weeks,” Cindi explained. The Amanda’s Easel program runs in 12-week cycles, but many of the clients continue attending for 36 weeks, quickly learning the benefits of the healing and support provided.

In addition to the tremendous efforts of the art therapy program, Cindi also manages the 2nd Floor Youth Help Line of Monmouth/Mercer Counties and parts of Philadelphia. Only 3 years old, the program – modeled after Child Line U.K. – maintains a call center that is open from 9 am-12 am, 7 days a week, and is dedicated to giving teens an anonymous platform to voice their deepest concerns, worries, and fears. “It’s not just a suicide line. We really encourage high school and college students to call and talk about anything on their minds,” Cindi said. An average month produces about 1,400 calls and over 3,000 website hits!

It takes a special person to contribute hours of their life to helping others in need. Cindi has visions for the expansion of both Amanda’s Easel and 2nd Floor Youth Help Line, but is proud to look back and see the growth that has already taken place in our community and around the state. —by Lauren Covino

Are you or someone you know in Colts Neck a “Person on the Move”? If you’ve got a story to tell this could be you! E-mail a brief description to us at info@livinginmedia.com and let us know who you are.

Favorite restaurants: Bistro Ole, Asbury Park
Favorite music: Bob Dylan
Favorite movie: The Notebook
Pet peeve: disrespectful youth in today’s society
Three people you would like to have dinner with: Jon Bon Jovi, Marge Goodwin, and Richard Gere


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