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The art of using talent to do good


As Dylan Cortes-Amaya thoughtfully colored a bright border around his picture of three African basket-carriers, he recounted how he started drawing.

“When I was 2, my dad would teach me how to draw Thomas the train,” he said, referring to Thomas the Tank Engine. “Then he taught me how to draw Angry Birds, and it was hard. My dad kept telling me to try harder.”

Ayrella Bailey said she enjoyed making her picture, especially “the edges with stars”

Dylan did, and recently put his hard-earned skills to work in a class project to benefit others with clean drinking water. Jen Rykse’s second-grade art class at Zinser Elementary created boldly colored pictures of women carrying water baskets on their heads, which they will sell to family and friends. Proceeds go to the Ryan’s Well Foundation, a Canadian nonprofit that provides access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in developing countries. More than 900,000 people have benefited from its work, its website says.

The idea was to connect students’ weekly art class to a purpose larger than themselves, Rykse said. The inspiration was the picture book “The Water Princess,” a true story based on fashion model Georgie Badiel’s childhood, about a girl and her mother’s struggles to get clean well water closer to her African home. It includes information about Ryan’s Well as a way for readers to help.

She’s used the book in the past but decided to take it a step further this year. Her students were happy to take up the challenge.

Julia Poplaski intently puts pastel colors onto her women’s dresses

“You want them to create awareness of the world beyond them,” Rykse said. “That was the purpose of the (book’s art) to begin with. This year I was like, ‘Let’s sell your art,’ and the kids were really excited about it.

“One of our standards is that there’s a purpose and a meaning behind most artwork,” she added. “We’re making an awareness that kids not having water is a problem.”

Happy to Help

Each student worked from the same basic model of three African women carrying water but added their own flourishes. Using oil pastel crayons, they daubed bright colors onto the women’s long dresses and created fanciful borders on a black backing to frame their pictures. Some cut out pieces of burlap to paste onto baskets on the women’s heads.

Arielle Schuur proudly shows her finished picture

The plan is to sell their artworks for at least $10 apiece, and bring the proceeds back to school by May 25.

Daniel Gonzalez seemed content as he drew orange patterns around his border.

“I like artwork,” Daniel said. “You really get to have fun, and get to create stuff you never got to create before.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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