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  • Stacey Bowers

Teaching Philanthropy with Puppies and Paint


When Stephanie Darnell, an art teacher at Maumelle Middle School, comes up with a new project she knows will really excite and engage her students but that her budget won’t cover, she doesn’t quit the project. Stephanie submits her project proposal on DonorsChoose.org, knowing that a project that totals $600 or less and incorporates the arts will automatically qualify for half-funding through Thea’s Art Closet, a program of Thea Foundation. Through social media, she can share her project to raise the other half, and DonorsChoose will offer her an international platform to raise those funds.

Stephanie’s latest project taught more than watercolor to her students. Using Louisiana artist George Rodrigue’s “Blue Dog” paintings as inspiration, Stephanie had each of her students paint a portrait of a pet in a local shelter. The students picked whichever dogs appealed to them, then, using sharpies, crayons and watercolors, they painted stylized portraits of the animals, which they later auctioned off at a dinner at the school. The money made from the paintings was donated to help shelter pets, and the paintings gave potential adopters an emotional and fun look at a potential pet.

“We are working beyond our classroom to reach out to our community and make a difference, to announce that the students of our school are talented in so many ways and we should all pay attention to them,” Stephanie said. This wasn’t her first Thea’s Art Closet-funded project that incorporated philanthropy. In late 2015, she used a Thea’s Art Closet grant to teach her kids pottery, and they made bowls to auction off and raise money to feed the hungry.

“It's wonderful to see my students so fully engaged in their work,” Stephanie said. “They are starting to realize that what they do in the classroom has an impact outside of the classroom.”

Thea Foundation received a bundle of enthusiastic “thank you” notes from Stephanie’s students, all of whom professed that they loved the project. “This was my favorite project. Thank you for making this happen,” a student named Abby wrote.

Thea Foundation has set a goal to raise the ceiling for Art Closet projects from $50,000 to $100,000, and efforts to reach that goal start April 7, 2016, with Arkansas Gives. Last year we received more than $13,000 on Arkansas Gives thanks to supporters like you; this year we’re aiming for $25,000 that we’ll leverage into $100,000 worth of creative materials for Arkansas classrooms in need.

What many people don’t know, but that’s all too common knowledge to teachers of the arts in Arkansas, is that many schools receive inadequate to absolutely no budget for classroom supplies to teach visual art, music, dance, drama and other creative subjects, and that teachers who teach math, science, economics and other subjects who want to incorporate the arts into their lessons to better engage students also don’t have the necessary budgets. To avoid asking their students to afford the supplies, these teachers of mostly high-poverty schools will often dig into their own pockets in order to teach the best lesson they can.

That’s where Thea’s Art Closet comes in to ensure Arkansas students are getting a creative, engaging, arts-infused education that is proven to make them happier at school and more eager to learn and retain information.

On April 7, please help us further this program by donating to Thea Foundation via the ArkansasGives.org website. Arkansas Gives, hosted by the Arkansas Community Foundation, is an annual statewide call to action, and your donation will be matched by Arkansas Gives sponsors, meaning your gift to Thea Foundation automatically grows!

Photography by Mark Fonville

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