Nonprofit Spotlight: Creative Alternatives of New York (CANY)

blog_NPO spotlight_title_image_CANY

Heidi Landis, CANY’s Associate Executive Director, recently talked with me about the organization’s mission and story. Landis was a professional actor in New York who fell in love with drama therapy and became certified as a drama therapist. After starting as an intern, she has now been with CANY for 10 years.

CANY’s story

CANY Photos 7.06 124It began more than 40 years ago, at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York, when a group of actors were welcomed onto the psychiatric units to work with patients. Philanthropist Janet Levy, who started the organization, first brought the artists in, and the program was so successful it was expanded to all inpatient units. Eventually, drama therapists, who had more theory training, took over for the actors.

Ten years ago, CANY started expanding to work with more people – from 5 year old children to veterans and new refugees. Many of the groups they serve are women/domestic violence survivors, and 65% are children who’ve experienced complex trauma (pervasive abuse and violence over time, at a developmental stage). All have underlying trauma in their lives.

CANY now offers its drama therapy programs at more than 15 facilities serving traumatized, mentally ill and underserved populations.

What is drama therapy?

CANY groupDrama therapy is the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals. It is active and experimental. CANY’s mission

CANY is all about empowering people who have endured trauma to rebuild their lives.

Through the use of drama therapy and creative expression in a group setting, CANY helps children and adults expand their self-concept, imagine new life possibilities, and build the social and emotional tools they need in order to live meaningful lives.

All staff are licensed creative arts therapists, highly trained in trauma therapy. CANY’s treatment program is a strength-based model, and it’s also relational. Since trauma happens in relationship, CANY’s philosophy is that people must heal in relationship.

IRC.Summer.2008 015CANY partners with hospitals, schools, community centers and treatment centers for biweekly sessions, and CANY therapists visit 2 or 3 sites a day to guide groups. While their offices are in New York City, group sessions are held throughout New York and Connecticut.

In addition to CANY’s therapy groups, the organization trains therapists, clinicians, teachers and artists about 6 times a year, and conducts a seminar series for mental health and social justice experts. Two years ago, CANY sent a group to Uganda, where they trained a group of clinicians in their methods to work with former child soldiers.

CANY’s guiding principles

Creativity is health. The more creative and spontaneous you are in your life, the healthier you are. Drama therapy is a training ground for that.

CANY080310_0202Metaphor is a healing tool. Roles in drama provide a safe container for trauma processing. Through story and fictional characters, poetry, art and music, trauma survivors can try on different roles and learn something about themselves.

Group is the therapeutic agent. All CANY’s services are based in group work that helps participants make connections and create moments that heal.


A research study was recently conducted with CANY partner agencies CARES High School and St. Luke’s Roosevelt  Hospitals. It measured teens’ emotional, behavioral and academic performance changes as a result of CANY’s trauma-informed drama therapy and found:

  • 08benefit 00285% demonstrated gains in regulating their emotions
  • 72% showed improvement in regulating their behavior
  • 63% showed improved peer relationships over time
  • 47% increased their GPA an average of 3%
  • 77% demonstrated improved self-concept
  • 72% had a reduced negative self-image and improved sense of identify

Giving practices and experience

CANY has customized its JustGive Donation page, sharing its mission, describing how drama therapy helps, and telling donors exactly what their gifts can do.

Maria Eleni, Finance & Operations Manager says, “JustGive has enabled us to give our donors a clear and effortless way to contribute to CANY, in addition to our mail and fundraising campaigns (we find some donors prefer making an anonymous gift). JustGive is straightforward and intuitive to use. We’ve never had a problem to even necessitate a support call.”

button_donate_now_yellowIf you’d like to support CANY and help make a difference today for adults and kids through drama therapy.

– Alex Mechanic
Service Team Manager

P.S. If you’d like to be featured in the JustGive Blog, submit your nonprofit!

Give the gift that will outlast sharpened pencils and this year’s fashions.

It’s that time of the year again – one last BBQ in the park, one last sandcastle the sea will wash away, one last s’mores by the campfire. Years after the exams are graded and the jeans are outgrown, education is a lasting gift we can give all children, to make a difference in their lives, the community, and the world.

The education we give our kids today directly impacts the quality of every aspect of our daily lives – doctors to find a cure for cancer, teachers to inspire future generations, politicians to create social change, entrepreneurs to develop new businesses. Even if you don’t have children, the education of the younger generation impacts us all.

JustGive is proud to partner with corporations that give back in a big way

Our corporate sponsor, Oracle is working with CARE to help disadvantaged children in Guatemala and India overcome barriers to education. The program is giving students-who might otherwise remain unschooled-access to math, science and technology lessons, as well as helping them build knowledge, confidence and self-esteem. Oracle’s $1 million gift, combined with CARE’s expertise in education and vast knowledge of local economic and cultural realities, is enabling nearly 20,000 children from these two countries to better their lives and the communities in which they live.

Need another reason to be inspired?

He put his hands on Haji Ali’s shoulders, as the old man had done to him dozens of times since they’d shared their first cup of tea. “I’m going to build you a school,” he said, not yet realizing that with those words, the path of his life had just detoured down another trail. “I will build a school,” Mortenson said. “I promise.”

If you keep up with the New York Times best sellers, you might recognize this excerpt from Three Cups of Tea, an inspirational book by Greg Mortenson. Dedicated to promoting community-based education, especially for girls in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Greg founded the Central Asia Institute. Before a project starts, the community matches Central Asia Institute project funds with equal amounts of local resources and labor. Such commitment ensures the project’s viability and long term success.

Members of a Bay Area book club, the “Blue Stalkings,” were so inspired after reading Three Cups of Tea; they plan to give the gift of charity to further Mortensen’s work this holiday instead of exchanging gifts with each other.

Ready to make a difference in a child’s life to ensure the well-being of yours?

Little changes can make a big difference. By making dinner at home instead of eating out one night a week, you can save $50 a month. Turn that savings into a $50 monthly recurring donation to your local PTA or an organization like Donors Choose.

Your weekly spaghetti night makes a difference to children that will change the world.

Interested in supporting libraries or special education? You can find a complete list of charities focused on Education in the JustGive Guide.

Want to spread the word? Tell a friend.