'Painting for a Purpose' puts money into service learning in Portland

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PORTLAND — A project that began as a group of women meeting weekly to paint has blossomed into a philanthropy funding service-learning grants for students in Portland’s public schools.

In 2009, Tina Clark Edwards, who works at Hall Elementary School, and Jane Ellis, a retired teacher in the district, brainstormed the idea for “Painting for a Purpose” after Edwards took a fanciful furniture painting class on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

“We both had worked with kids who had written grants, I’d been involved with a youth philanthropy and she’d been involved in something similar, and we talked about selling the furniture and creating a philanthropy,” Edwards said.

The pair, along with several friends, began painting together once a week and word spread about the project. During the first two years of the program the group painted chairs and stools to be sold at auction.

This year, the project expanded to include 12 local artists and 12 students from the Portland schools.

Each group received one wooden lobster boat and one dory to paint. Participating students were nominated by high school teachers and met with their artists throughout the summer to complete their projects.

The completed lobster boats and dories will be on sale at the group’s Nov. 8 auction. The auction runs from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Grace restaurant, 15 Chestnut St., and all proceeds go toward funding service-learning projects in the schools.

Since the auction started two years ago, the project has raised $5,000 and has funded 14 grants for students.

In order to receive money from Painting for a Purpose, students must submit a grant application to the organization detailing a problem in their school community.

“There has been a lot of effort in service learning in Portland and we are sort of capitalizing on that,” Edwards said. “(Students) have to identify some kind of problem or issue in the community and they have to research it so that they really understand all sides of it and then they come up with a plan as to how they are going to solve it. If we think they have really made their case, we give them up to $500.”

Some of the service learning projects funded by Painting for a Purpose have included:

• Students from Lincoln Middle School constructed a stone and wood path to easier access their garden, protect plants from being stepped on and to prevent soil damage and compression due to heavy usage by students.

• Longfellow Elementary students received $500 to purchase reusable snack bags for kids at the school. The bags are used to hold breakfast so that students can transport their meal from the lunch room to the classroom, reducing waste and unnecessary packaging. The fifth grade students at the school are responsible for returning the bags to the cafeteria each day.

• Casco Bay High School students were awarded $500 to create a school garden as a tool for teaching and learning about sustainable agriculture. Food grown in the garden is served at the school’s salad bar.

• Portland Arts and Technology High School used a $500 grant to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity.

Edwards said that she hopes that the project is able to continue for many years and that this year they are able to double their profits from the auction to provide more grants to students.

“This is a sustainable model. It’s not so overwhelming and we have a good funding stream going for these projects,” she said. “But we’ve been building and we’re ready to double (our efforts).”

Amber Cronin can be reached at [email protected] or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.