On a regular Saturday afternoon, at one of the local homeless shelters, senior Renle Chu holds a pencil and teaches a homeless man how to draw, as she has been doing for over three years.
“I started this non-profit organization called the Art for Action Foundation (A4A) in my freshman year. Basically, what we do is using art, specifically art by teens and community members from Palo Alto, to bring change and awareness to relevant issues in [our] community.”
Organization President Renle Chu
As community service becomes an important expectation for high school students, the diversity of it also increases. As a category that many people are not familiar with, art-related volunteering is becoming more popular.
Chu said the A4A is currently preparing for its annual art gallery in October. A4A gathers art from both teen and community artists, frames the pieces and eventually auctions the works off during the exhibition to raise money to support Dreamcatchers, one of the partner organizations A4A that tutors underprivileged youth and low-income students from Fletcher and Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle Schools.
Although the gallery and auction help generate financial support for the youth tutoring program, fundraising is not the only service that A4A provides.
“Another part of the Art for Action Foundation is [that] we teach art classes at local homeless shelters every week. It helps with mental health issues and serves like a stress-reducer.”
We also take some of their art and resell it through a third party. The revenue we get from that goes to both the clans and the shelters to support them.”
According to Chu, the basic techniques and various tips that she learned in AP Studio Art were useful for teaching art.
“I do art a lot in my spare time, and I really enjoy it,” Chu said. “Combining art and service together was a really exciting idea for me when I thought about it in my freshman year, because service is another thing that I really love.”
Sophomore Avery Hanna, who volunteers at the Palo Alto Art Center and teaches basic art techniques to young children, says this unusual experience of volunteering has been meaningful.
“The kids are always unique, and they make really crazy figures,” Hanna said. “[The Palo Alto Arts Center is] inspiring their imagination and helping them express their ideas through art.”
According to Hanna, her art passion contributed to her choice to volunteer at the art center.
“I can’t do art at school because it doesn’t fit into my schedule this year,” Hanna said. “So, I think art-related service would be a great way to stay connected to it, and it has really become part of my life.”
As more people express a growing interest in this unconventional form of community service, Hanna said more organizations similar to A4A and the Palo Alto Art Center are likely to be established. She believes that the rise in art and service organizations would not only provide more diverse jobs and types of community service, but also provide students more options in terms of how to spend their time and what they would like to gain from it.
Other students share similar views on the value of community service.
“It’s really important to give back to the community that is already giving so much to us,” said Evan Baldonado, a senior who has earned over 1000 hours of community service during his time at Paly so far. “And, for yourself, you really get to feel good about helping others, and you can also gain important work skills.”