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Art students create something memorable

Colleen Creamer • Updated Nov 19, 2016 at 11:00 AM

For a few children in a struggling orphanage in Colombia, their small world is about to get a little brighter thanks to a Mt. Juliet Christian Academy art teacher and three of her students.

Mt. Juliet Christian art teacher Brenda York and her students, Anna Miller, Talley Drescher and Cody Nalley, are partaking in the Memory Project a charitable nonprofit organization that invites art teachers and their students to create portraits for youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence and extreme poverty.

York heard about the project from the Tennessee Arts Academy. She was looking for something just like the Memory Project.

“I wanted my kids to be able to use their talents to do some kind of outreach,” said York. “This was started because these kids are orphans, and they have nothing. We had gotten a list of projects, and this was on there.”

Memory Project staffers receive photos of children and teens from global charities operating residential homes, schools and care centers in a number of different countries each year. Since 2004, they have created more than 90,000 portraits for children in 42 countries. 

When shown the photos of the children whose portraits they would draw, they were taken aback, said York of her students’ reaction to photos of the children, all 3 years old.

“They were kind of stunned because the looks on the children’s faces as they were photographed was so despairing,” York said. “As artists, they were able to change these photos a little … they have nothing that has any linkage to family.”

The Memory Project’s mission statement is two-fold, to help the children feel valued, to know that people care about their well being, as well as act as meaningful pieces of personal history.  For the art students, the Memory Project wants to provide an opportunity to “creatively practice kindness and global awareness.”

Students only got a picture but no other information, only the country in which they lived, York said.

“We don’t obviously get names to protect the identity of the children,” York said 

York said the staff member who received the portraits was excited about the results when he saw the level of portraiture at which her students perform.

“They were really particular about choosing students who could do a likeness,” York said. “These guys worked so hard and so diligently.”

The Memory Project staff will bring the portraits to the Colombian children in early December; they will videotape the children’s responses, as they do always for the benefit of the art students.

In turn, the children are presented photos of the students who painted or sketched their portraits.

“I thought it was cool that I was going to get to draw something that they could maybe keep their entire life and to know that somebody cared enough to draw them,” said Drescher, a senior at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy.

To see some previous videos and to find out more about the project, visit memoryproject.org.

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