High school students raise funds for orphans through Rwandan artwork
The stress of sports and AP classes might be enough to keep some high school students busy, but Charlotte’s Heath Berry wants something more.
The Ardrey Kell junior has his eyes set on a Rwandan village and the money that his organization, Project FEAT, plans to raise this weekend through Waxhaw’s Barnful of Quilts, a fundraiser event hosted by Fox Family Farms.
Heath and fellow athletes Jake Goldman and Mattie Gainer founded Project FEAT (Friends Enabling Achievements Together). They describe the mission of the organization as “kids helping kids get on their feet … in our neighborhood and around the world.”
Project FEAT will display and commission original Rwandan artwork at Barnful of Quilts to raise money for the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a Rwandan center that houses children who orphaned during their country’s genocide.
Project FEAT plans to sell 30 pieces of artwork, all produced by the children of Agahozo Shalom. The collection of 15 framed and 15 unframed portraits offers a variety of styles, including sketches, paintings, pastels, watercolor portraits and crayon drawings.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee founded Agahozo Shalom, which means “dry their tears, live in peace,” around 2005. The committee remodeled the village after residential living communities established in Israel to house young Holocaust survivors following World War II.
Agahozo Shalom is now home to children from all 30 districts of Rwanda.
Heath and his friends conceived of the Rwandan artwork display as a means for the children to visualize hope and beauty. The portraits inspired Heath has certainly been inspired by these portraits. “These kids are full of hope, even in this dark time,” he says. “They’ve gone through so much pain and are still drawing beautiful, vibrant artwork. They still have hope because of this village.”
Since it originated two years ago, Project FEAT has participated in community events such as the Special Olympics Athletic Retreat and Jammin’ at the J, a local event targeted at middle-school students, which raised money to send 100 basketballs to Agahozo Shalom.
Project FEAT also has expanded to places outside the Charlotte region. Co-founder Jake Goldman has friends in New York who have jumped on board, and a women’s guild in New York recently teamed with Project FEAT to knit clothing for children who need the extra warmth during the colder months.
Saturday will mark the first time Project FEAT has participated in Barnful of Quilts. Melanie Berry, Heath’s mother, is helping the group prepare for the event. “Our family owns two horses, and we board them” at Fox Family Farms, Melanie Berry said. “As soon as we heard about Barnful of Quilts, Heath and I looked at each other and said, ‘Project FEAT!’ We knew we had to get involved.”
The Berrys turned to connections in New York through Goldman. They contacted Rachel Olstein, who heads up fundraisers for Agahozo Shalom, and initiated planning for the art work in the spring. By the end of the summer, the artwork had started to arrive.
Agahozo Shalom has given Project FEAT responsibility for handling the art. Heath and his mom have handled the matting and framing. At Saturday’s fundraiser, the students will man the booths, with one adult at each location.
Even with all the work, the students intend for Project FEAT only to run faster. They’re already brainstorming a dance marathon at Ardrey Kell High. “Our goal is for people to use their imagination in any way possible to raise money, whether it’s making backpacks, playing sports, playing music or dancing,” Heat said. “I’ve had an idea to start a school club next year.”
According to Melanie Berry, Project FEAT has proved successful partly because it appeals to kids from different backgrounds. “The organization is so inviting,” she says. “It allows people, particularly high school juniors and seniors, and even sophomores, who have a heart for outreach, to come out of the woodwork and bond together for a good cause. That’s what’s so special about Project FEAT.”
Want to go?
Barnful of Quilts takes place Saturday, Oct. 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Fox Family Farm, 7505 Sims Road, Waxhaw. Admission costs $5, but people younger than 18 or older than 80 get in free. For more information, visit www.projectfeat.org or www.foxfamilyfarm.com.