With the help of a $500 Painting for a Purpose grant, the Presumpscot Elementary School Kindness Club recently created a Kindness Rock Garden, where students can go during recess to find solace and comfort.
The students transformed an unused patio outside the school into a sanctuary-like space of calm and reflection, bordered with colorfully painted rocks inscribed with caring, kind, and compassionate words. The new Kindness Rock Garden became a sought-after space for students during the last days of school.
Fifth-graders Sander Sam and Aziel Solomon, who are members of the “doers” subgroup, spearheaded the Kindness Club’s project.
School social worker Caron Morse, who started the 60-member-strong Kindness Club three years ago, heard about Painting for a Purpose grants and told the group about them. The students quickly honed on the lack of a designated area for classmates that feel a need for space and solitude during recess to calm down.
With only a few weeks of school left, Sander and Aziel wrote a grant proposal and won $500 to purchase the rocks and painting supplies to create the sanctuary border before the fifth-graders move on to middle school. For the last step of the project, club members explained to each classroom what the Kindness Rock Garden represents.
Ramin, Shaham, Sahel, Raihana, Saeed, Saha, Rafeullah, Samuellah, Sadiq. These are the names of real children and teens living in Kabul, Afghanistan. All are growing up with loss, violence and the consequences of 17 years of war in their Central Asian country more than 6,000 miles from Portland.
For Elizabeth Thomas, Jean Wriggins and other high schoolers in Barbara Loring’s Art II class at Portland High School, the distance between themselves and these youth narrowed as they spent days turning into months looking deeply into photographs of the faces of these initial strangers and attempted to paint oil portraits of the children.
Soon, their completed paintings on 9-by-12-inch canvas – now on display on the 3rd floor of PHS – will be sent as keepsakes from each Portland student to their subjects with messages in the Dari language.
At the beginning of this assignment, the art students knew only the name, age and favorite color of their subjects, all of whom are cared for by an Afghani social service. “But we looked long and hard at their expressions,” said Wriggins, a sophomore. Her subject seemed “reserved but was still smiling.”
“By now, I could pick out Raihana in a crowd,” said Loring of her subject. She was tantalized by her “beautiful gray-blue eyes” and used Raihana’s favorite color of red as the background of her portrait, hoping it would communicate empowerment and heart.
To complete the portraits, students learned about the values of light, realism and how to add details and tones with pastels or by applying paint with a fingertip.
A $500 Painting for a Purpose service-learning grant covered the expenses of art supplies, shipping costs, documenting the project and partnering with the international nonprofit organization The Memory Project. The organization provided the photos and arranges for the presentation of completed portraits as gifts of friendship for each subject. Since 2004, the Memory Project has helped art students create more than 100,000 portraits of youth from 43 countries.
Casco Bay High School juniors premiered a full-length documentary on June 12 called “199 Miles: Stories from the Katahdin Region,” featuring unsung heroes from that area of Maine. The entire junior class spent a week in the Katahdin region in April to lend a hand to local community development and document the stories of people living in Millinocket and nearby communities.
The documentary was created as part of the students’ Junior Journey. Each year, Casco Bay High School 11th-graders go on a one-week, cross-cultural learning experience to expand students’ sense of the world and who they are through service and adventure learning. In past years, juniors have traveled to West Virginia, Mississippi, New York City and Detroit to help community improvement efforts while also telling the untold and inspirational stories of locals through oral histories and brief films.
The Katahdin region was chosen because it has a host of economic, environmental, cultural and political stories to tell. Millinocket spent almost a century in the sweet spot of the American dream, but now residents face the economic consequences of the closure of their mills, population decline, and many questions about how to move forward as a community.
The region has a powerful natural history. Katahdin, or “Greatest Mountain” as the Penobscot call it, is a sacred bridge between earth and sky. The American transcendentalists memorialized this particular expanse of wilderness in Thoreau’s journal “The Maine Woods.” The modern environmental conservationist movement has watched this area closely since President Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument despite some fierce local outcry against federal ownership of land locals worked and vacationed on. The fate of the monument is still on the table. Casco Bay students documented people from the region telling its various stories.
Second-grader Linos Hansen puts the finishing touches on the new Kindness Garden at Presumpscot Elementary.
Jean Wriggins, left, Elizabeth Thomas and other art students at Portland High School painted portraits of Afghani children that will be sent to their subjects with messages in the Dari language.