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Fifth Grader’s Art Outreach Lifts Up Kids and Families 

Fifth grader Ava Rajappa didn’t let her anxiety over the pandemic overwhelm her. Instead she used what she had learned about conquering her own anxiety to help other kids around the world. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Ava, who goes to school at David A. Kaechele Elementary School in Henrico, was scared and “upset that innocent people were dying,” she says. 

“Ava realized that art work immediately calmed her and not only was a helpful tool during COVID-19 but also helped when she was stressed with school work. Ava decided she wanted to bring the gift to as many children as she could reach, hoping to help them through this difficult time and inspire creativity and joy,” says her mom, Julie, who serves as executive director of Art Love Charity, the non-profit Ava and her family started last year. 

Whenever Ava would get frustrated with her school work or anything else, her calming outlet was creating artwork and crafts. “During the pandemic, she realized how important that was in her life,” her mom says. 

Ava, now ten, started the nonprofit with her family when she was nine. “Before we started it, I didn’t realize how many kids didn’t have art supplies and homes and now that I realize that it makes me want to help more,” she says. 

The organization makes and delivers art and crafting supplies to kids facing hardships that include homelessness, food insecurity, economic inequity, and mental illness. So far, Art Love has delivered over 3,000 art kids to children in the greater Richmond area, nine states, and Washington, D.C., as well as Asia.

Each custom kit – there are four themes: Art Attack, Getting Crafty, Water World, and the newest Hero Pack – is designed specifically to give children the supplies they need from start to finish.

“We want our Hero Pack to inspire kids to find their inner hero, their super power,” says Julie, adding that professional artist Bart Atsin designed the art for the new kits. “His work and his prompts give kids inspiration.”

The organization plans to also partner with South African charcoal artist Nic Wentworth for a new Safari kit that will benefit kids in South Africa as well as the U.S. 

Supplies such as colored pencils, glue, stickers, and water colors are bought in bulk from various retailers. The organization also accepts used supplies from the community under its Art 360 program and gives them a second life so they can be repurposed for arts and crafts and donated to local shelters and schools or shipped in bulk to underserved areas.

Art Love Charity connects and partners with other organizations such as Foundation of Goodness in war torn Sri Lanka. “After the tsunami, Kushil Gunasekera helped build schools and revitalized the economy through his foundation,” Julie says. 

The organization will also be partnering with Richmond-based Better2gether RVA, which helps children with rare and complex medical issues. 

“They holistically support the family and siblings. We will deliver age-appropriate art kits to them,” Julie says. “We are hoping to have a long-term relationship with them.” 

The goal moving forward for the organization is to create a new kit every quarter for Better2gether RVA to use in art classes. 

“We are just thrilled and so grateful to the community for all of their support, all of the small businesses and individuals who have allowed us to achieve our mission to bring smiles to children’s faces throughout the region and provide them with opportunity for self expression,” Julie says. 

An award-winning writer based in Richmond, Joan Tupponce is a parent, grandparent, and self-admitted Disney freak. She writes about anything and everything and enjoys meeting inspiring people and telling their stories. Joan’s work has appeared in RFM since the magazine’s first issue in October 2009. Look for original and exclusive online articles about Richmond-area people, places, and ideas at Just Joan: RVA Storyteller.

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