On February 17, 2009, Ron and Nan Deal experienced the tragic loss of their 12-year-old son, Connor – a boy who loved to sing and make art. In the months that followed, Ron and Nan, along with their two other sons Braden and Brennan, searched for a way to process their grief and find a place to share Connor’s creativity with the world. The Deals found both after partnering with Touch A Life.
Nan described her first trip to Ghana as a “rescue mission” for herself. Traveling with Pam Cope impacted Nan greatly, especially since the co-founder of Touch A Life had also experienced the grief of losing a child. “Whether it is with Touch A Life or another organization, I think anyone who has suffered a profound loss needs to get out there and start serving, because in that you will find that you are not alone,” Nan wrote in an e-mail interview. “But the beauty of Touch A Life is that they are ministering to two groups…these precious children who need a voice, and the grieving parents who have so much more love to give. When you put those two together, it is the beauty from the ashes.” On that first trip, Nan helped to rescue two boys sold into slavery on Lake Volta. Through her experience, she and Ron could hear Connor sing his song again.
The Deals have since named their organization Connor’s Song in memory of their son, but Ron is clear in its purpose: “Connor didn’t need us to give meaning to his life; he already did that himself. We are the ones who needed to do something with our sadness. Our grief energy was not””and even now is not””satisfied; you just have to do something with yourself or you fall apart.”
Ron and Nan started to imagine a place where Connor’s creativity would be remembered, and their brainstorming led to the birth of the Connor Creative Arts Center. As a licensed therapist, Ron incorporated therapeutic art and play therapy experiences into the goals for the center: “The children have been through some traumatic experiences and we want to foster healing. I am applying my clinical skills to that end by giving oversight to the therapeutic process.” Beyond the physical center in Ghana, the Deals began with a plan to share whatever they learned through this process so other organizations can, as Ron said, “redeem, not only the physical bodies of trafficked children, but their emotional, psychological, and spiritual sides as well.”
Connor Creative Arts Center, located at the Touch A Life Care Center in Ghana, was completed at the beginning of 2013 and dedicated in March. Ron and Nan were present for the dedication and were both overwhelmed with their feelings of joy, as well as the familiar waves of sorrow. They each remembered the experience clearly. Nan said that “It was above and beyond what we asked or imagined. The coolest thing was watching the children come in when it was finished – their eyes got big and they knew they were in a special place made just for them. It is a legacy to be very proud of, and then it became a gift for a special and very deserving group of survivors.” Ron wrote: “I imagined, even as I walked up to the center and placed my hands on it for the first time, that Connor was smiling that amazing smile he displayed for nearly every picture ever taken of him. I could see him jumping for joy and so happy that the Center was complete. He loved children and knowing all the Center was going to offer these kids was bound to make him smile. And me, too.”
Now that Connor’s Creative Center has been built and the programming has begun, the Deals intend to continue their involvement to keep it running and stocked with art supplies. They also dream of hosting music and art camps and, then someday expand the program to other areas of the world. Through their fundraising partnership with Touch A Life, Ron and Nan have simultaneously found healing and brought healing to others. As Ron said, “Partnering with Touch A Life has been a huge blessing. Bringing beauty from ashes does not destroy the ashes or our pain, but it does give us something beautiful to look at.”
If you are interested in supporting the work of the Connor Creative Arts Center or partnering with us on your own journey, we would love to talk with you – please contact us.