The Memory Project is a nonprofit organization that invites art teachers and their students to create portraits for youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, and extreme poverty.

By Jonathan Turner |

Rock Island, IL―Fifteen Rock Island High School students are creating art for kids they’ve never met, half a world away.

The members of the 30-student art club volunteered to make portraits of orphans in Ethiopia for The Memory Project. The nationwide nonprofit organization invites art teachers and students to “create portraits for youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, and extreme poverty,” according to memoryproject.org.

Rocky art teacher Addie Corby-Winn proposed the idea last fall. She successfully did a similar project with another class at Muscatine High School.

“They reach out to orphanages and other groups to see who wants to participate,” she said of The Memory Project which arranges student portraits of children in 35 countries.

Project staff first visits the countries to photograph the kids. The children’s photos and information are sent to participating schools. When completed, the 8.5-by-11-inch portraits and the corresponding photos are sent in a clear plastic sleeve back to The Memory Project headquarters in Middleton, Wis.

When the group travels to Ethiopia to deliver the portraits, they will make a video for Rocky of students receiving their art, Ms. Corby-Winn said.

The project’s website states the portraits help the children feel valued and know people care about them. They also act as “meaningful pieces of personal history in the future,” the site states, and give art students a chance to “creatively practice kindness and global awareness.”

“These children are kids who face many challenges, like poverty, with no parents, being alone,” Rocky junior Elijah Westmoreland said. “This project will help them feel meaningful in this world, knowing that people care about them.”

“I read about how they don’t think anybody really cares about them, and this will show them that people notice them, and do something kind for them,” said sophomore Jasmine Stampley.

Ben Schumaker started The Memory Project in 2004 while he was a University of Wisconsin student after spending a month volunteering with disadvantaged children in Guatemala. Since then, the project has created more than 80,000 portraits for children in 35 countries.

The subjects for the Rocky students range in age from 2 to 10.

“I like that you get a different view on it,” said junior Faith Mutum. “The kids get to see how other people look at them, and the fact that someone from another country is taking the time to just focus on you.”

Students can use any medium during the three-month project that ends Feb. 12. Rocky’s art club students are using paint or colored pencils; for many, portrait work is new to them.

“I always thought art was really fun,” said sophomore Vanessa Holland, who’s working in pencil, and is in the club without having taken an art class.

The club typically meets daily for about 20 minutes during homeroom time. Some members, such as senior Iris Johnson, are taking advanced placement art class.

“They expect more; you’re creating a portfolio,” she said of her class.

Senior Sophie Taylor did her Memory Project portrait in colored pencil because “that’s what I’m most used to.

“I have some trouble with paint,” she said, adding she most enjoys “being able to reach out to these kids, especially through something that you love to do.”

Club members also teach art lessons at the Center for Math and Science because Rock Island doesn’t have elementary school art teachers.

“I want to find a way for them to reach out to kids here, not just in other countries,” Ms. Corby-Winn said. “Children in our community need help, too. They can easily share their art in more than this way.”

She said she will do a Memory Project portrait if a club member doesn’t finish one.

Each student volunteer also is raising $15 per portrait that will go to the organization for travel costs, staff and donations to help the children. Students are collecting money until Feb. 15.

Source: The Dispatch / Rock Island Argus
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