By Stephanie Wenning / Special to the Triplicate

Local teaching artist, musician and Vietnam veteran Sam “Mombo” Hernandez was invited to speak to a state legislative committee in Sacramento on May 22 for an informational hearing with the Joint Committee on the Arts. On the committee and attending the hearing were state Sen. Ben Allen, chair,, Assemblymember Kansen Chu, vice chair and state Sen. Richard Pan.

The hearing was called to share testimony regarding statewide programming created and implemented through the California Arts Council’s (CAC) Veterans Initiative in the Arts grant, established four years ago. Mombo was invited to share his experience both as a veteran and in working with the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness (DNACA) as a teaching artist in their Arts for Veterans program.

Mombo has been a key contributor to DNACA’s arts programming for many years, having started in the Arts in Education program, which is now in its 38th year. Mombo and his wife Kim have given demonstrations to K-8 classrooms for nearly two decades with the many drums and hand percussion instruments from throughout the world that he has collected over his years practicing music therapy.

When DNACA decided to pilot the first year of the CAC’s Veterans Initiative in the Arts grant, then-Executive Director Holly Austin, after receiving input from veterans through the Veterans Service Office about what they’d like the program to incorporate, approached Mombo about hosting drum circles for local veterans, active military, and their family members. He and Kim have since fostered a healing space for participants to express themselves through the rhythm, experience catharsis, and be surrounded by community.

The drum circles have become integral and well-requested parts of that program. DNACA’s current Executive Director Stephanie Wenning has since expanded the number of drum circles offered throughout the year and has plans to host them in locations throughout the county in the coming year. Other offerings in the program include guitar, painting, drawing, and creative writing workshops and complimentary season tickets to the nonprofit’s Performance Series.

It was a huge honor to have Mombo in attendance at this hearing. Among other panelists sharing testimony were Christopher Loverro, a veteran who founded Warriors for Peace Theatre using Shakespeare as catharsis; Amber Hoy, a veteran and visual artist who helped curate the Not Alone exhibit showcasing women in the service; Phyllis T. Miller, who works for the Veterans Art Venue in Los Angeles and began Paint ‘n’ Sip gatherings for tea tasting, painting, and communing; Adam Stone from the So Say We All project; Elizabeth Washburn, executive director or Combat Arts San Diego; Reginald Green from VetArt.org; and Rebecca Vaudreuil, a creative arts therapist with Concussion Care Clinic at Camp Pendleton working on helping veterans and their families focus on possibility rather than disability.

There were several sentiments brought to the table that were mentioned by many of the panelists. Post Traumatic Strength was a phrase used many times to refer to the therapy that art provides these veterans. Several panelists asserted that art is not a luxury, but a necessity. One of the biggest takeaways was that this work being done in California for veterans must continue to be legitimized, accessible, and expanded. With two million veterans, California has the largest population in the country and we hope to see this work move nationwide. Lastly, it was emphasized by many that it is crucial to make these offerings available to the family members and caretakers of veterans who return and are working on re-integrating as citizens. These activities and resources being provided help facilitate conversation, closing communication gaps and creating better understanding amongst tribes of people needing and seeking such support.

For more information on DNACA’s Arts for Veterans program, contact DNACA at 707-464-1336 or dnaca@harborside.com

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