Several Starmount High School students wrapped up a very special art project last week that has been months in the making. Earlier this year, Ree Gregory, admissions and marketing director at Willowbrook Rehabilitation and Care Center, approached Starmount art teacher Andrea Raines about painting a mural at Willowbrook.
Sight unseen and without even talking to her students, Raines readily agreed to take on the project. A large room where many of the Alzheimer’s patients sit during the day overlooks a fenced in patio and Gregory wanted a mural painted on the fence for the Willowbrook residents to enjoy. Raines’ own grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away a year ago, so the project was something that meant a lot to her personally.
“I was never able to do something like this for her so it was a good tribute and something nice I could do to remember her,” Raines said.
She said her students were also quick to hop on board with the project.
“I just have really wonderful students, they agreed right away,” she said. “We started right after spring break and we’ve been working at least two to three days a week ever since then, usually after school.”
Even though school has been out for weeks now, several of the students have continued to come as their schedule allows and work on the mural.
The painting features mountains, rivers and fields.
“It is an Alzheimer’s unit and we try to take them back to what they remember. They remember the mountains, the streams, the fishing, hunting, they can recall that,” explained Gregory of the nature theme for the mural.
Sarah Dowell, a rising junior at Starmount, came up with the initial sketches for the project. Raines said that when they finally saw the space and how large the fence was, the project began to evolve. The first step in the process was to paint the entire fence brown and then sketch in the features that would be painted.
“I think some of the residents were a little concerned when we had been here for several weeks and all they had was brown,” Raines said with a laugh. She said she felt the need to apologize every day for the boring brown paint, but promised there would be color added soon. When the first color, a bright blue, was added in, the residents cheered, Raines said.
Seeing it all come together from where it started was student Sarah Wagoner’s favorite part. She also said she enjoyed getting to know some of the residents who would come out to watch the painting in progress.
“It’s meant so much to get to see how much it means to the residents,” said Dowell. “When you come through the door and they just light up, when they see you and they walk through the doors and they get to watch [us paint], they just light up.”
Aside from the art experience, Raines said that interacting with the Willowbrook residents has been a good learning experience for her students.
“I think that the thing they’ve really enjoyed about it is we have gotten to know some of the residents a little bit,” Raines said. “I think it’s been good for them to see the residents regularly and be seen by them as well. Sometimes they would come out and ask questions and the students had to explain how it worked.”
Two other students who helped on the project were rising junior Hunter Johnson and Summer Kingrea, who graduated this year.
Raines said she had most enjoyed getting to spend extra time with her students and getting to know the residents as well.
Though the project was deemed completed and a celebration held for the students and their families, Raines isn’t ready to call it quits just yet. She said she would love to continue to do different projects at Willowbrook and give her students other opportunities to serve the community with their art.
Gregory agreed that she too wanted to see continued involvement not only from Starmount art students, but Forbush as well. An inside mural was completed by Forbush students several years ago.
Starmount Principal Cody Hemric, who attended the celebration, said he couldn’t be prouder of his students and their accomplishments.
“I’m always proud of everything our kids do,” Hemric said. “I’m thrilled to see that they can give back to the community and what this will mean to the patients here. What our students accomplish on a daily, a weekly, a yearly basis, it’s beyond test scores, it’s beyond wins and losses in ball games, it’s about changing peoples’ lives.”
Kitsey E. Burns may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.