By Wenhao Ma
Splashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization based in Huntington that provides murals for medical and social service facilities to create welcoming environments that facilitate healing turned 20 this past month.
Years ago Heather Buggee, creator of Splashes of Hope, was just an art school student with a close friend who was suffering from Hodgkin’s Disease. While he was being treated, Buggee said the two friends talked about how positive imagery and an appealing environment would help patients relax and support the healing process while they stayed in a hospital.
Her friend did not survive the illness— but Buggee decided to keep their dream alive.
In 1996, Buggee created Splashes of Hope.
“Environment is very much a part of the healing process,” Phil Rugile, president of Splashes of Hope board said in a phone interview. “Splashes fills that gap, and if nothing else gives a child a few minutes of respite from whatever scary event brought them to the hospital in the first place.”
Senior mural artist, project manager, and daughter of Buggee Sarah Baecher said the organization was started in her mother’s basement. Now Splashes of Hope is located inside Coindre Hall, a mansion built in 1912 that is now owned by Suffolk County, fit with an office and art studio. They have been there for the past 15 years.
There are four artists working daily in the office, but Baecher said the nonprofit has more than 50 volunteers on Long Island and more than 100 nationwide. With the help of volunteers, Splashes of Hope has worked on projects across the country and world.
“To date we have ‘splashed’ thousands of focal points and murals in children’s hospitals across the U.S., local Veteran’s homes, shelters, psychiatric clinics, cancer centers, nursing homes, orphanages in Ukraine and hospitals in Paris, Cairo, Nicaragua and Rome,” Buggee said in an email.
To create murals, artists would first visit the hospital or facility to see how their creation would best fit in the room. Then they can either paint directly on the walls in the facility or on removable panels in their studios, which are later installed in the facility.
“We work with the staff in the hospital and see what kind of theme they need for patients,” Baecher said. “In asthma centers, we want something where you can breath, like an open sky with some birds flying around. In psychiatric centers, you don’t want stimulus. We do a lot of open water scenes.”
Other than painting for public facilities, Splashes of Hope also does murals for the bedrooms of children with life-threatening illness, with artwork that shows off their favorite things.
Ethan Chang, 13, is one of the children who received a mural , Chang has degenerative brain disease, and five years ago, he was granted a wish by Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. Dave Gussaroff, who was Chang’s “wish granter” at that time, called Splashes of Hope and asked if they could do a mural for Chang’s bedroom.
Since then, Chang and his parents, Thomas and Ann-Marie, have been involved with the organization. According to his mother, Ann-Marie, Chang loves painting with Baecher and Buggee, and several of his paintings are now hung in the organization’s studio.
“I’m here because of [Buggee],” Ethan’s mother said in an interview, who is now a volunteer for Splashes of Hope. “She got my son interested. Then he brought my husband and me in. You can feel her love and passion for what she does and it makes you want to be a part of it. There’s a million places that we could have chosen and wanted to spend time and volunteer for. And we have done volunteer work for other organizations. But when you come here, there’s a different feel.”