Tina Edwards works on a whimsically colored lobster, which was sold to raise money for student-led projects at Portland schools. The Painting for a Purpose creations are being sold at craft fairs, online, through word of mouth and at Clayton’s Cafe in Yarmouth. Courtesy / Painting for a Purpose

PORTLAND — More than a dozen local artists’ are fueling Portland students’ projects aimed at bettering their world.

For more than a decade, volunteers from Painting for a Purpose have sold their brightly colored wooden lobsters, fish and birds, as well as chairs, stools, mirrors other other hand-painted items, to provide grants to help fund the students’ work. They have raised more than $40,000 for 90 projects led by Portland Public Schools students.

For more than a decade, local artists and volunteers have donated brightly decorated pieces, such as this herring gull, to raise money to provide grants to Portland students. Courtesy / Painting for a Purpose

This month, Painting for a Purpose awarded $500 to fifth-grade students at Longfellow Elementary School for their Science on the Playground Project, which includes the construction of an informational kiosk about the bugs that can be found around the school grounds. The kiosk will be updated regularly by students.

Fifth-grade students at Lyseth Elementary School, also this month, received $328 to create a new mural to welcome students to the school as part of the Welcoming Pineapple Project. The previous one, the Shine Mural, also funded by Painting for a Purpose, was removed as part of the school’s ongoing renovation/expansion project.

Painting for a Purpose, which began in 2009, is an off-shoot of another organization co-founder Tina Edwards was involved with Youthink, a Portland youth leadership organization that funded student-led community improvement projects.

When grant funding ran out for the Youthink program, Edwards and Jane Ellis, who spent 20 years teaching in Portland, started Painting for a Purpose as a way to continue to generate revenue for student service learning projects.

The idea behind the grants, she said, is to inspire students to do what they can to make the world a better place.

“The more we can get kids to do that at an early age, the hope is they will keep on doing it,” she said.

The effort now includes 14 volunteers, as well as community artists, who meet weekly for painting sessions at Portland High School. Now, due to the pandemic, the painting sessions are held virtually.

Ellen Handelman, an art teacher and civil rights club leader at Lyseth, has had several groups of students successfully get their projects funded through Painting for a Purpose.

“One of the most important things a teacher can do is give students a voice to get something done,” she said.

The grants send a “powerful” message to students that their ideas matter, said Handelman, who contributes artwork to Painting for a Purpose.

Two Lyseth Elementary School students were granted money from Painting for a Purpose to repaint the school’s Buddy Bench, a place were kids who are lonely can go to be comforted by classmates. Courtesy / Ellen Handelman

Through the years, grant proposals have come from students across all grade levels.

“As adults, we can have an idea of the problems that need to be solved, but with this, you are getting from young people what is important to them and ways they can make a difference,” Edwards said.

Past projects have created school gardens; sought to make  schools more welcoming, including efforts at Deering High School to hang a welcome banner in the front entrance; redesigned the Buddy Bench at Lyseth where kids can sit to be comforted by their classmates when they are feeling alone or sad; and set up mentoring between Reiche third-graders and in-coming kindergarteners and between eighth-grade and six-grade students at Lincoln.

Other projects have been aimed at helping those in need, including a revamp of the clothes closet at Portland High School, the ‘Ram’ily Market for clothing and other items at Deering, and the effort last year by two Portland High School students to make fleece hats for homeless people.

Students’ projects also have assisted people afar, such as those to help improve education in Guatemala, South Sudan, Peru, Nepal and Mali and to support orphanages in Madagascar, Haiti and Ghana. A few years ago, money was awarded so Portland High School students could partner with The Memory Project to give children in war-torn countries a personalized portrait of themselves.

For more information, visit www.paintingforapurpose.net.

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