Isabelle Gardiner of Topsham is selling her artwork through a virtual fundraiser to benefit Camp to Belong Maine, which unites siblings separated by foster care, adoption and other out-of-home care. Photo courtesy of Isabelle Gardiner

TOPSHAM — Mt. Ararat High School senior Isabelle Gardiner has put her skills to work creating art she is selling to benefit an organization that reunites siblings separated by foster care.

The 18-year-old chose Camp to Belong Maine for the fundraiser because it aligned with her interests. It works directly with kids by helping reunite siblings separated by foster care.

“I want to go into psychology or social work in college and foster care is an element that really interests me and I’d love to work with kids,” Gardiner said. “I thought this was a good way to get my toes in the water.”

Every Summer, Camp to Belong brings together siblings ages 8 to 18 at a weeklong camp who have been separated by foster care, adoption, or other out-of-home care, its website states.

Gardiner’s endeavor is part of her senior capstone project. Mt. Ararat High School Principal Donna Brunette said senior capstone projects are a way for kids to self-design a project. Students determine their own plan to accomplish it and must be able to learn, communicate and problem solve.

Brunette said some projects, particularly those that benefit community organizations, “tend to stand out in that it goes a little beyond the students and what they may be interested in and serves a greater purpose, so it’s pretty impressive what our kids can do.”

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Gardiner worked with two mentors at Lewiston-based Rinck Advertising, a firm that works with many organizations to set up fundraisers. Her mentors helped connect her with Camp to Belong.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gardiner is selling her work online through Facebook starting Sunday. The sale will last until Saturday, Feb. 13 or until they are all sold. People can search ArtWithIz Fundraiser For Camp to Belong to find out how to purchase the artwork.

The painting “Summer Ocean” by Isabelle Gardiner of Topsham will be for sale during the ArtWithIz Fundraiser For Camp to Belong Feb. 7-13 on Facebook. Photo courtesy of Isabelle Gardiner

Gardiner began painting and drawing over the summer and estimates she has about 15 pieces of artwork. Most of the artwork is ocean or floral-themed landscapes as Gardiner said she had to think about how to cater to the audience.

“I really hope that people do buy things and do participate in it,” she said.

According to the Maine Kids Count, the number of children in foster care waiting to be adopted at the end of 2019 was 576, up from 480 in 2012 which is a 20% increase. Additionally, the percentage of children removed from their homes and then reunified has gone down from 53% in 2013 to 41% in 2016.

According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, “Siblings often provide continuity and family stability during a separation from home and family. Separating siblings can intensify a child’s or youth’s grief or trauma.”

Camp to Belong provides a camp experience that may be one of the few times during the year that siblings are able to spend time together, according to its website which adds, “Surrounded by other sibling groups who have similar life experiences, youth feel connected — and like they belong.”

Attempts to reach Camp to Belong were unsuccessful Thursday.


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