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Painting-by-numbers mural a celebration of gratitude, hope for front-line health care workers

It was 7:30 a.m. Monday and Stella Oluwakotanmi was coming off an overnight shift at Adventist Health in downtown Bakersfield.

But instead of going home for some shut-eye, the registered nurse was carefully brushing green paint onto a wall across the street from the hospital.

"It's been really, really rough," Oluwakotanmi said of the past year, an extraordinary period that has generated pandemic-related stress for many RNs and other medical staff.

"You do the best you can, whatever you can," she said, "to help people, to save lives."

After months of sometimes dangerous, often exhausting work by frontline health care workers, the hospital wanted to provide a little "art therapy" during the annual Nurses Week celebration.

Paint-by-number murals designed by local artist Jennifer Williams-Cordova offered Adventist Health nurses some fun therapy Monday morning. Williams-Cordova painted the top half of the mural over a two-day period, and penciled in outlines of hearts, flowers and other shapes to let the nurses contribute to the murals.

"It's relaxing," said Nurse Manager Melissa Woods, who painted a yellow heart.

The theme is about hope, she said. 

Mural painting this week will also be happening at Adventist Health facilities in Delano and Tehachapi as well.

"It is hoped that a bonus benefit — in addition to some beautiful art pieces for and by our associates — will be an art therapy element, especially after this past year," Adventist Health said in a news release.

Williams-Cordova, who has become well known for her involvement in painting several murals across Bakersfield, said she has long wanted to include a paint-by-numbers component to some of her murals as a way of bringing others into the process.

And it seemed to be working Monday.

"That's my heart," said RN Mariah Earl, who works in labor and delivery at the hospital.

Earl painted one of several hearts that will appear in the finished piece.

In fact, several contributors said they like the idea of seeing their small contributions to the large mural for years to come.

"We did a great job — and I'm not very artistic," said Licensed Vocational Nurse Irma Lopez, who teamed up with fellow LVN Lucy Mata to fill in a shape in blue.

Mata said creative efforts "are an innate part of us" as humans.

"It's been a tough year, but rewarding, too," Mata said.

The pair work on the COVID-19 vaccination team, and Mata said the instant patients receive their first dose, something happens to them.

"It provides a sense of relief for people," she said, "when they come in for the first dose."

Like the mural, like the celebration of nurses, it's a shot of hope.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.