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After Katrina, finding hope in crayons

Four Houston moms are "Making a Difference" by encouraging young children who survived Katrina to express their feelings with crayons. NBC's Ron Allen reports.

They're four stay-at-home moms from a Houston suburb who wanted to help when thousands of kids from New Orleans filled shelters here last fall.

Now called the Katrina's Kids Project, Ashley Bryan says they had a plan every mother would understand.

“If you give a kid a crayon, they're going to use it,” Bryan says. “And so much of what they draw expresses what's going on inside of them.”

They began drawing with a few kids and almost overnight there were pictures drawn by hundreds of children. At first they were dark, frightened images of the hurricanes' destruction.

“The paper was all, like, a little magical thing,” says evacuee Elisa Thomas. “And the pencil was like the utensil you use. You could just express all your feelings on paper.”

“When they asked me to draw,” says evacuee Reginald Otkins, “I could close my eyes and see and visualize everything that happened.”

With time, the images turned brighter and the moms knew they'd begun to help make a difference.

“Just by listening and sitting with them while they drew,” says the Katrina’s Kids Project’s Sue Jensen, “we saw how amazing the transformation occurred with the children.”

All of this may have started in a Houston suburb, but that's just the beginning of the story. Little by little, the artwork has captured the attention of some very influential people.

Cely Pedescleaux, a New Orleans artist, heard about the pictures and turned them into a quilt. And then, as word spread further, one of the most prestigious art groups in the country — the National Arts Club — honored the moms at a gala in New York for how they used art to bring smiles to so many young faces.

“These children's needs must not be forgotten,” says the project’s Janine Scheuppert. “They're just at the beginning of a long road to recovery.”

“I see this resilience, I see creativity,” says National Arts Club President O. Aldon James Jr. “I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Now, the project funds art classes at a school for young evacuees. At least 20 galleries across the country plan to exhibit the pictures and sell prints.

Many of these young artists continue to draw — and hope the pictures help them find a way home.