Students give back to community by creating art


Photo courtesy of Lauren DeFelice.

Sarah McNey

On a hot July afternoon, Sebrina Gao painted the final brushstrokes on a wall. The project, a floor-to-ceiling mural of colorful zoo animals for the Lakewood Head Start branch, is the culmination of 164 hours of work.

Art serves many purposes, from communicating an idea to evoking an emotion. It can also strengthen communities. Whether it’s through murals or portraits, many CHS students use their artistic talents to give back to the community.

The Cultural Communications Club (CCC) works closely with the New Jersey Head Start program, a federal program that “promotes the school readiness of children from birth to age five from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development,” according to

Head Start recently opened a second location in Lakewood and asked the CCC to paint a mural, said junior and CCC council member Sebrina Gao of Freehold.

“The building was pretty empty so they wanted us to paint something to make the environment more welcoming,” Gao said.

Over the summer, Gao and nine other CCC volunteers painted a 7-by-36 foot mural. The project took over a month to complete.

CCC volunteers were also asked to paint street art for Better Block Asbury Park this year, a festival that celebrates community.

Freshman Meg Ellis of Freehold was one of five volunteers involved with the project. She said the event helped to bring the community together.

“There were plenty of people that weren’t from CHS who helped with making the design,” Ellis said. “I loved seeing everyone get together to make something truly beautiful.”

Every year, Illustration and Design students participate in The Memory Project, a program that sends portraits to children in poverty around the world. Each student in the class draws a portrait of a child based on a photograph, which the charity then sends to the child along with a monetary donation, said art teacher Shelley Ortner.

“A lot of times the money goes to a community center that benefits kids as far as having playgrounds and organized activities,” Ortner said. “It’s a really great program.”

Junior Ally Weitzman of Marlboro drew a portrait of a 9-year-old Syrian refugee for The Memory Project.

“This project was different than the rest. It felt more important,” Weitzman said. “These kids are a lot less fortunate than us and to them this will be a meaningful keepsake to document their childhood.”

Art such as murals plays a key role in fostering stronger and more connected communities. According to a 2016 poll by the Toronto Arts Foundation, 87 percent of those surveyed said that art positively impacted their neighborhood.

Along with beautifying cities, public art can create opportunities for conversation and increase understanding of historically underrepresented groups, according to the Americans For the Arts organization.

“[Art] is something universally understood, and it can bring people closer,” Gao said. “I aim to inspire others and I hope to make others happy through art.”