The first thing you notice upon entering Roswell Park Cancer Institute is the feeling of excitement and energy. Young patients working with the Paint Box Project are eagerly awaiting their afternoon art party. On every table is an elaborate still life display of holiday symbols ranging from nutcrackers to reindeer. Hanukkah is represented by menorahs adorned with blue and white candles. Everyone is busy drawing, painting, laughing and talking and the room is filled with the sound of pencil on paper. This fun get-together has a very important purpose -- the kids are creating original artwork to raise money for cancer research.
This particular art party was one of many held during the year where young cancer patients during and after treatment get into creative mode and make artwork for the Paint Box Project. Volunteer designers take the artwork and transform it into greeting cards and holiday gifts. "It's really cool to see my design when it is finally done," says Joseph Westphal, 10.
Joseph was only 11 months old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He has been in remission since he was four and has designed many cards for the Paint Box Project. "We (survivors) are the message," says Joseph. "We are still alive, still helping others, still living life. So we are the hope to cancer patients that they can make it through cancer as we did." Joseph has designed four cards for this year's project, including a whimsical portrait of Monty, the pet therapy dog.
John Senall, manager for Marketing Communications and Development at Roswell, says the Paint Box Project has raised more than $5.7 million for cancer research in the last 16 years. But raising money is not its only purpose. Art parties provide a place for kids and families to hang out with others who are dealing with the same challenges. They can forget about their issues for a while and express themselves creatively.
"The holiday decorations give me ideas, and you can use the colors to express your feelings," says Taylor Speth, 11, who was diagnosd with a brain tumor when he was 6 years old. Taylor has been in remission for five years and says that his favorite thing about going to Roswell is seeing the nurses and doctors who have helped him on so many occasions.
This year Taylor designed a "Happy New Year!" card, as well as a "Crazy Hat Buffalo T-Shirt" with Michael Morgulis of New Buffalo Graphics. When asked what he wanted people to know about the Paint Box Project, Taylor said: "It's a great opportunity for kids to create for a good cause."
This year, through a partnership with greeting card publisher Great Arrow Graphics the Paint Box Project has gone national. Cards are being sold in hundreds of stores all over the United States including Barnes & Noble.
"This project is all about making kids happy and stars -- it's about them giving back to raise money," says Jennifer Bronstein, art committee chair. Adult and teen volunteers help out at the art parties. "It is a very small way to give back for all the things they have done for us," says Mary Westphal, Joseph's mother.
"I like to draw and be with my friends at Roswell Park," says Joseph. "But mostly I'm glad about helping. The more money raised for cancer research -- the greater the chances of finding a cure."
Find cards for sale at Tops, Wegmans, Dash's, the Lexington Coop and Barnes & Noble. You can also order at www.paintboxproject.com.
Sophie Friedman is a sophomore at City Honors.