Art students paint portraits for refugees


AP art students pose with their finished portraits before they are sent to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Monday, April 23, 11 Vernon Hills High School art students were honored by the District 128 Board of Education for their participation in The Memory Project.

The Memory Project is a non-profit that encourages art teachers and their students to craft portraits for children facing substantial challenges in their daily life including war, poverty, abuse, and loss of parents. While Ms. Molloy, VHHS art teacher, has been encouraging her students to participate in this program for three years now, she believes that this year her students connected with the project on a new level.

Zahra Nadeem (12) shared that participating in the project means so much to her, every time she tried to explain it to her family, she would start crying. As president of Muslim Student Association (MSA), Nadeem was extremely passionate about the project and believes that the small act of kindness of painting a portrait can go a long way for children facing such harsh living conditions.

“My heart is out there because our philanthropy project last year in MSA was for Syria, and it just hit so close to home knowing what they’re going through,” Nadeem explained. “Being able to make an impact on their lives is so humbling.”

Each student artist who participates in the project is provided with a photograph and some basic information, including first name and favorite color, about the child they are assigned to paint. When the finished portraits are sent to the child, student artists are encouraged to share their name and favorite color in the package, as well. Still, both parties are only allowed to share this basic information in order to maintain anonymity, thus protecting all participants.

Lee Judilla (11) believes that this project encouraged him to make a global impact and expanded his reach as an artist outside of Vernon Hills.

“I feel like so many students repeat to themselves that they can’t do anything out of Vernon Hills, but you can, and you just need to reach out and make that difference,” Judilla said.

Molloy echoed this sentiment, explaining to the D128 Board of Education that the project relates to the district’s graduate profile, DARING. Students who participate encompass three of the elements of the profile; they are dreamers and doers (D), aware (A), and global (G).

While the project is currently not part of the art department’s curriculum, Molloy hopes to integrate it next year through applying for an innovation grant. She shared that beyond the art skills her students build through the project, it is apparent that they are passionate about their work and gain awareness as global citizens.

One of her other students, Drew Laser (11), explained that he cannot participate in many volunteer programs in the community, like Feed My Starving Children, but this opportunity allowed him to still volunteer his time and make a difference.

“All I hear is bad news, so to be able to do something as simple as a portrait — something simple to do that I’m good at — it’s good for me and it’s good for them,” Laser stated. “It’s a win-win.”