November 24, 2013

Society Notebook: Painting for a Purpose helps youths

Proceeds from the art sale go toward grants to schoolchildren.

By Amy Paradysz

Painting for a Purpose empowers kids to make a difference in their schools, in the community and around the world. And its recent auction at DiMillo’s raised over $9,000 toward that purpose.

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Volunteer auctioneer Erin Ovallee, left, of WMTW News 8 with Stefanie Millette of Portland and Cory Fletcher, co-owner of Garbage to Garden.

Photos by Amy Paradysz

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Eda French, a 16-year-old Casco Bay High School student who contributed the “Cat’s Meow” mirror to be sold at the auction, with her father, Russell French, of Portland at the Painting for a Purpose fundraiser at DiMillo’s.

Photos by Amy Paradysz

Additional Photos Below


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Four years ago, former teachers Jane Ellis and Tina Edwards were painting chairs in a whimsical style and wondering what they could do with their finished work. They could sell the chairs at craft fairs. Or they could do some sort of philanthropy. But what?

“And then we thought, what if we used art to raise some funds for youth-led service projects?” Edwards said.

Both women had been involved with other organizations that allowed kids to apply for grants for projects.

“We saw that when they learned how to find the answers on their own, the process of their education just blossomed,” Ellis said.

“Listening to kids’ ideas and giving them money to apply them gets them interested in active citizenship right away,” Edwards said. “If they start knowing they can make a difference, that will carry on.”

And that’s how Painting for a Purpose was born.

A half-dozen women gather each Wednesday to paint small furniture pieces – from rocking chairs and rocking horses to spice racks, foot stools, bookends, candlesticks and treasure boxes.

Adding to the bounty for this year’s auction, 31 other artists donated pieces. In addition, 15 students from Casco Bay High School, Portland High School, Deering High School and Portland Arts and Technology High School contributed one-of-a-kind hand-painted mirrors.

“It’s amazing when you give people a blank palette and let them create,” Ellis said.

All these pieces were sold at the fundraiser, bringing in $8,000 – $1,000 more than last year – and sponsors Bangor Savings and Auto Europe brought in another $1,200.

Erin Ovalle, morning anchor for WMTW News 8, has been the group’s celebrity auctioneer for four years – even though she says the event keeps her up way past her bedtime.

“I jumped at the chance to help an organization supporting kids at a time that was tough financially for the schools,” Ovalle said.

Portland public school students in grades 3 and up have the opportunity to identify a school or community need, research the situation, make a plan to address the need, and apply for a $500 grant.

Since its inception, Painting for a Purpose, run entirely by volunteers, has given 22 grants totaling $12,000.

Students from Lincoln Middle School are buying books for a school in South Sudan, volunteering at the Park Danforth Senior Center, working with Good Shepherd Food Bank to raise awareness about hunger and embarking on a photo campaign to welcome incoming fifth-graders.

“This is a pretty powerful model for a number of reasons,” said Ainsley Wallace, a member of the Painting for a Purpose advisory board. “Students start with an idea and end up with a plan – as well as the resources to execute that plan and make it a reality.”

For example, Reiche School bought used sewing machines to enable the sewing club to turn recycled juice pouches into purses that were sold to raise money for field trips. This grant reduces school waste, teaches a skill and increases opportunities available to students.

“A lot of great ideas don’t require a lot of money, but if you’re 11 years old you don’t have the capital to get things moving,” Wallace said.

A lot can be done with $500.

Painting for a Purpose supported a composting and gardening project at Deering High School and a new art space at Portland High School. Students from King Middle School purchased plastic bins for collecting returnable bottles and reducing waste. Lyman Moore Middle School got a new green screen for the news media team.

Portland artist Gloria Miranda, one of the women who paint every Wednesday, happily contributed several hand-painted pieces to the auction. She loves painting and the fellowship and being part of a larger movement to empower thoughtful young people.

“It teaches the kids how to write grants and enables them to feel like they did something for their community,” Miranda said.

Joe Anne Shields of Old Orchard Beach is in awe of what her creative and community-minded friends are able to accomplish. “They all work with passion and soul,” she said.

“We made more money than the year before and had more people than the year before,” Edwards said. “So we’re still building.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached

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Additional Photos

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Co-founders of Painting for a Purpose Jane Ellis, left, of Old Orchard Beach and Tina Edwards of Freeport.

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Tara Harwood, left, of Portland and Emma Kelly of Buxton support kids’ causes.


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