When Katie Fox '18 first heard about the Memory Project from her brother, who attends St. Sebastian's School, she immediately thought it would be a great way to combine her love of art with her dedication to service. With Ursuline's motto of "Serviam" in mind, she was intrigued to learn about this non-profit that invites art students to create and donate portraits of youth around the world who live with substantial challenges. The portraits are intended to help the children feel valued and important, and provide a meaningful piece of personal history for them. Besides the benefit to the children, it offers a way for student artists to use their unique talents to practice kindness and global awareness in a very personal way.
After getting approval from art teacher, Mrs. Caroline Rufo, Katie contacted the Memory Project and started a club at Ursuline Academy as a sophomore. Katie explains, "I think the club fits incredibly well with our motto of "serviam" - we are serving the children we are painting by not only giving them a keepsake of their childhood, but also by showing them that somewhere, even if it's half-way across the world, somebody is thinking about them and wishing them well." That first year, using photos provided by the organization, five students created and sent portraits to children in Romania.
To start the process, the students are given a photo, along with the child's name, age and favorite color. Then they meet each week for several months to create a portrait in the medium of their choice. There are charcoal drawings, watercolor and acrylic paintings and collage-style art. Before sending them back, Katie touches up the portraits, perhaps painting a background, and takes a photo of each artist to attach to the back of the paintings. The girls have raised funds to cover shipping costs for the portraits, and are sending additional money to benefit the children and the charities that care for them.
During Katie's junior year, the club grew from five girls to seventeen and created portraits for children in Syrian Refugee Camps and Tanzania. This year, the club - now 34 members strong - has just finished portraits of children from Haiti and are delivering them this week. Once portraits are received back at Memory Project headquarters, the organization sends staff members to hand-deliver them to the kids in their home countries and makes a video of the delivery to share with the art students and teachers who created the portraits.
Katie and her friends at Ursuline have enjoyed the opportunity to create these personal keepsakes for children around the world. "The amount of time we spend examining the portraits and painting the children creates a special sort of bond between us - it causes us to think about their lives, and the struggles they are going through. It is a great feeling to know that we are making a personal impact on these less-fortunate children and hopefully brightening their day in any way we can." She adds, "It has really taught me to count my blessings."
The Memory Project was started in 2004 by Ben Schumaker, a young social work student in Wisconsin, after spending time volunteering with young children in Guatemala who had very few personal belongings. Sensing the need for tangible mementos for children to carry into the future, he began soliciting art teachers and their students to join his fledgling organization and make and donate portraits for children around the world. Since 2004, participants in the Memory Project (memoryproject.org) have created more than 100,000 portraits for children in 43 countries.