Why Volunteer? Because Kids Love Art!

Over 64 million Americans do it every year, for an estimated total of 7.9 billion hours, with a value of $175 billion! What are they doing? Volunteering! The Walla Walla Valley has a robust volunteer culture, with folks choosing to give of their time for issues they care deeply about, to socialize and meet new people, to build skills, or to set an example for their children.

Walla Walla’s Carnegie Picture Lab brings art lessons and projects into nine different elementary schools throughout the Valley, three times each school year. This adds up to some 1,300 classroom hours of volunteer instruction by over 90 volunteers — with an even greater amount of time volunteered behind the scenes.

Picture Lab’s volunteers are a diverse group of people with a range of motivations. Tiffany Jenes P1030479has been Prospect Point Elementary School’s Picture Lab ‘Advocate’ for five years now. The Advocate is the lead volunteer at each school, coordinating the scheduling of volunteers in each classroom, and keeping on top of the supplies provided by Picture Lab. With a degree in General Art from the University of Washington, she is happy to share her love and knowledge of art.

“I think art as personal expression is so important to our children’s development, but it’s sadly one of the first things often cut in our schools due to budget and time restraints.  The Picture Lab program allows us to start a dialog about “what is art” with the kids and we are able to share our enthusiasm and passion with kids that might not have been exposed otherwise. “ Jenes said.

“Just seeing the reactions of the kids makes it all worth it.” She continued. “Whenever I’m at Prospect Point, I’m constantly stopped by students asking about our next project.  I love bringing in art supplies that are maybe different than anything they have ever used. The kids get really excited!”

Jane Drabek P1030446volunteered for Picture Lab at College Place’s Davis Elementary initially because her son, Chris Drabek, Davis’s Principal, asked her to! He said, “Mom, I’m thinking, that you might have some other retired friends who might like to get involved with the Picture Lab program too. It was fun to have him call to say that there was need there that I was more than happy to do.” she said. For her, volunteering is important because it fills a need. “We’re offering something to the children in the Valley that is important and overworked teachers don’t have time to do.” she added.

Drabek’s past volunteerism included work with the Blue Mountain Heart to Heart Agency, which provides services for those affected by AIDS. She continues to hold an annual fundraiser for the organization, and also coordinates the monthly Dances of Peace held at the First Congregational Church. When asked what she would say to those considering volunteering for Picture Lab, she said, “Jump in! It’s an activity that can bring you joy – it is so much fun to see the kids making discoveries through art.”

Sharpstein Elementary’s Picture Lab Advocate P1030361Noel Sanders was drawn into volunteering for the organization through gentle, but persistent persuasion from a couple of her friends already volunteering for the organization. “It’s fun, she said! I love teaching, and at times I feel like I’m learning as much as the kids are.” With an impressive degree of organization, she has come up with a system to schedule all of her volunteers in their own child’s class despite the fact that students move between four different teachers throughout the day as part of their dual language schedule. She encourages other folks to volunteer for Picture Lab because “they can really choose how much, or how little time they contribute – if they want to teach or assist in their child’s classroom only, that is great!”

One of Picture Lab’s newest volunteers, Summer Barcenas, P1030482a hometown native and home-schooled high school junior, became involved for a couple of reasons. After returning from traveling throughout Europe for two years with her family, she’s been giving presentations in Walla Walla’s elementary schools about her travels. “I’ve found that I really love teaching!” she said. She also remembers fondly her own Picture Lab instruction when she attended Sharpstein. “I just love seeing all the kids artwork and their creativity – each work is unique. Currently teaching about Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, she has found that the students are responding well to the new surface material for their watercolors – a plastered piece of wood, to mimic a fresco surface. “The plaster they are painting on is pretty different than watercolor, but after they get a hang of it, they really enjoy it.” she said.

Picture Lab is also fortunate to have the assistance of two AmeriCorps volunteers: Junpei Tsuji, a recent Whitman graduate and Madeline Brown, a Walla Walla native. Tasked with teaching a range of classes at Blue Ridge Elementary and leading the way for the Family Fun nights Picture Lab brings to each school, they serve a vital role while gaining some real-life works skills.

Join in! – Winter Volunteer Training sessions will be held on:

Wednesday, January 14th from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. or on

Thursday, January 15th from 10:00 – 11:30 am

Held at the Carnegie Picture Lab Studio at 515 E. Main Street in downtown Walla Walla.

– by Tracy Thompson

Carnegie Picture Lab is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that focuses on art eduction in Walla Walla valley schools. Read more about CPL here .