Abby Gordon , 9th grader at Central H.S. (left) paints alongside rotarian Denise Chapline in the art room at Jenks Elementary School Art. Denise is heading this joint community project at Jenks and has raised nearly $1000 from her team of colleagues at Elfant Wissahickon Realtors/DiFranco Team in Chestnut Hill, for art supplies at Jenks. The education cuts in Philadelphia have affected all public schools, including Jenks. There were no extra funds for art supplies at Jenks in the upcoming school year. (Photo by Carol Bates)

by Paula M. Riley

When students at J.S. Jenks Elementary School visit their art room next week, their jaws will hit the floor.

Thanks to the generosity of many community members, led by Chestnut Hill Rotary and Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, the Jenks basement art room has undergone an amazing transformation.

Calling the project a “face-lift” doesn’t seem to do it justice. Imagine a very dark, dirty, basement art room with a scattering of supplies, dried paint bottles and scraps of paper. “Depressing” and “pathetic atmosphere” were the words used by Rotarian Carol Tyler to describe the art room during a June Rotary meeting.

Denise Chapline, fellow Rotarian and member of Elfant Wissahickon’s DiFranco Team, was touched by these words and leaped into action. Together with professional photographer and Rotarian Carol Bates, Chapline launched the renovation project.

Appeals when out to Rotarians, community members, Elfant Wissahickon realtors and brokers and local businesses. As is often the case in Chestnut Hill, if you ask, people give.

Chapline’s first donor was Old City Paint & Decorating (Benjamin Moore). After writing a solicitation letter to manager Thomas Donnell, she stopped in the store to follow up. He told her he would happy to give everything she requested and he promptly responded with paint, drop cloths and brushes for the entire project.

Later that week, Bates bumped into Handyman on the Hill John O’Donovan, while shopping at Kilian’s. She told him about the project and O’Donovan jumped at the chance to help out. He dedicated three full work days and helped the volunteer crew prep for painting and repair furniture.

Chapline put out a call to fellow realtors and brokers and collected $1,000. Combined with donations from Chestnut Hill Rotary and individual donors, more than $3,000 will be dedicated for the purchase of art supplies throughout the school year.

Perhaps most stunning is the efforts of the volunteers over the last few weeks. More than 275 hours have been dedicated to clean, prime, paint, repair and organize the room.

“It took a lot of elbow grease as we cleaned, sorted papers, reorganized, and repainted,” Chapline said.

Large oak art tables were carefully refinished by Frank McCarthy, of Artisan Restoration and Remodeling, who is also making four large wooden display boards to mount students’ art work. Like so many of those involved, McCarthy was happy to contribute.

“Carol asked and I said ‘yes’ – plus, if there’s any chance to give back, I always try to do that,” McCarthy said.

For most of the last two weeks there has been a flurry of activity in the art room as volunteers from Rotary, Friends of Jenks, Jenks Beautification Committee, Elfant Wissahickon and community residents worked feverishly to complete the project before school opens.

“What makes this project so great is the collaboration between so many members of the community,” said Chapline. “Everyone is keeping the students at the heart of the project, this is so very heartwarming.”

When Central High freshman Abby Gordon saw the email requesting volunteers, she responded to earn community service hours. She arrived with her mother, Nicole, who, after seeing the project, decided she would stick around to help. Nicole just completed her degree from La Salle University and wanted to give back to the community. The mother/daughter pair worked together each day and was usually the last to leave.

“I just can’t believe how dedicated they are,” Bates said . “They keep showing up and working hard all day. We have so many amazing volunteers. That’s the only way we could have gotten this done.”

Chapline agreed. She believes that everyone in the community wants good things for Jenks but often are uncertain of how or where to act. This project was an appealing endeavor that touched people in many different ways. It was small, manageable and had a very specific outcome and time line.

She considers the art room project to be a great model for community improvement.

“We need to take bites, like this, into things that need to be done,” she said. “If we do that, and work together, we will get a lot accomplished in our community.”

The transformed art room will be enjoyed by students all year. Despite Philadelphia School District (PSD) budget cuts, students will receive art instruction from volunteers David Green Laura Eyring, a Jenks parent. Green is a PSD retired art teacher who teaches Jenks art classes three days a week, and Eyring will assist in the planning and instruction. Additionally, a group of 15 Jenks students will participate in the Fresh Artists program.

When asked about the art room renovation, Principal Mary Lynskey was silent for a moment, then took a breath and said, “This is absolutely unbelievable – they gave that room an extreme, extreme makeover. It’s just another example of how people come together when we need it most.”