In early 2016, Suzette Morrow asked me to do an interactive presentation on careers for her art students at Coast Union High School. The idea was to open up new vistas in art and design for our Cambria students.
I began by sharing some experiences from my career as a designer of posters, cards, and toys in the 1960s and ’70s. Later I shared some insights gained from working in career development at Walt Disney Imagineering (theme park designers) in the ’80s and ’90s. We then did some drawing and writing activities based on a prompt from my current work as an art therapist and career counselor: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Drawing with crayons and felt markers seemed to bring on a playful spirit of make-believe usually associated with early childhood. There was some laughter and a lot of smiles.
I shared my belief that you can do what you love and make money at it and asked if any of them had done something they loved and gotten paid to do it. One girl raised a pig and sold it at the county fair. We applauded her. Another girl had a lemonade stand. More applause. A tall young man with red hair (the same shade as both my daughters) volunteered. His name was Liam. He loved skateboarding, made a film about skateboarding and taught skateboarding at Venice Beach during the summer when he was with his dad. (Big applause).
After the presentation, for which the class gave me a standing ovation, Liam came up to talk. Turning to my book display, I handed him a copy of my book, The Creative Journal for Teens, showing him the photo of me at age 39 skateboarding at Venice Beach. The shot was taken just yards away from where he had taught skateboarding. How awesome was that! We had an instant bond.
Liam went home and told his mom, Shelly Triggs, about the presentation and raved about the whole group experience. She called me in tears, thanking me. She had also called the school district to say this was the first real excitement Liam had expressed about school in all his years at Coast Union. She urged them to bring more of this type of program into the schools. I learned that she is a therapist, like myself, and is also with Children’s Creative Project bringing art into the schools. Another instant bond.
Shelly and I have spoken many times since and had adjacent booths at the last career day at Coast Union. As a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, I can only imagine the depth of shock and grief she is experiencing at this time. I have asked my international community of 80 Creative Journal Expressive Arts therapists and educators to pray for her and her family and am encouraging donations to the fund that has been set up for their benefit.
What Liam is leaving behind
My conversations with Liam and Shelly, and the enthusiasm of Suzette Morrow led to talks with Dr. Vicki Schumacher, Coast Unified’s superintendent. I am happy to say that, working together last school year and this year, we are fulfilling the wishes of both mother and son. Their encouragement and inspiration led to the Talent2Work program offered in Mrs. Morrow’s art class last year and again this year. Mrs. Morrow and I are also developing a life skills program using the same drawing and writing techniques Liam was so excited about.
I am dedicating the Talent2Work book to Liam Taylor, as well as the new life skills workbook we are about to pilot in Mrs. Morrow’s classes at the middle and high school this year. In addition, I will be working with our new principal at Cambria Grammar School, Jill Southern, and any new materials that develop from our work there will also be dedicated to Liam.
Liam Taylor started it all. His spirit will live on in the Coast Unified School District and in my publications for youth. Liam will be sorely missed, but definitely not forgotten. Thank you, Liam. And thank you, Shelly, for making those phone calls to our school district. Know that you are loved and that Cambria is here for you and your family.
Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D., is a registered art therapist and expressive arts therapist.