Artists surprise Salinas girls with portraits
Artists surprise Salinas girls with portraits

Eleven young girls from the Family Resource Center in Salinas received a personal memento to cap another great year with their Santa Catalina friends: painted portraits of themselves.

Santa Catalina enjoys a close community service relationship with the Family Resource Center, which serves homeless children and their families. For the past three years, Catalina students have engaged with the elementary school-aged girls for various activities each month, such as science experiments, seasonal crafts, book clubs, beach cleanups, and games.

At one of these events in October, where the girls came to campus to watch the fall musical, a student took photos of 11 of the girls without telling them what it was for. The photos were handed off to Claire Lerner's sophomore Art 2 class, who spent the next five months painting portraits of the girls. On May 24, the artists got to surprise the girls with the finished portraits while the girls' families looked on.

"The portrait reveal event meant the world to our homeless students and their parents," said Cheryl Camany, the center's homeless liaison. "Our students look forward to the monthly Fun Friday events with their Santa Catalina buddies. These events build camaraderie, mentorship, and trusting relationships. ... It was amazing to watch how proud our girls were to receive a portrait of themselves. Thank you, Santa Catalina, for loving our girls!"

The idea for the gift came from a project art students participated in last year called The Memory Project, where students painted portraits of children from Haiti whose homes were destroyed by a hurricane. Both Lerner and service coordinator Jennifer Duncan were excited to adapt that project for the Family Resource Center.

In addition to painting the portraits with acrylic paint, the art students built 16-by-20-inch frames and stretched the canvas. While making sure to get the details of their subjects right, they were allowed to take liberties with the girls' clothing and the background. The results were stunning. As the girls unwrapped their portraits one by one with the artist at their side, their facial expressions ranged from glee to awe. The girls were later seen closely examining their portraits and re-wrapping them carefully for the trip home.

"Our Catalina students' work went way beyond my expectations for this project," Lerner said. "These portraits were painted with love, compassion, and skill."

"Claire came up with such a meaningful project to connect our students to our community," said Duncan, who received a surprise portrait of her own. "The final reveal was so special. Just the fact that all of the families came to the event made our students understand the impact they were making through their artwork. It was a day I will remember for a long time to come."

View photos of the portrait project here.

View photos from other Family Resource Center events this year.

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