Southern Guilford High School students preserving special memories through art

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- The honors-level art class at Southern Guilford High School has a big assignment. But their teacher, Jessie Raeford, believes they have skills to take on the challenge.

"I think it is good for them to give back to the world," Raeford said. "Most of the students want the kids to be happy with the product they are making."

The 20 students are preserving a cheerful moment for kids that have experienced so much pain. It's called "The Memory Project." The nonprofit group by the same name takes smiling pictures of kids going through tough situations like loss, neglect and poverty and sends those pictures to young artists.

At Southern Guilford High School, the students are using the pictures to draw or paint portraits of children that live in an orphanage in Pakistan. Azka Sabri is an art student at Southern Guilford. When she first heard of "The Memory Project," she couldn't wait to get started."

"He should know that everyone is here to love him," Sabri said.

Suri Pastor is also an art student. For her, painting the portrait of a smiling young student is a labor of love.

"I think the portraits are cool to draw," Pastor said. "Not only do you make someone happy, you get to develop your skills a little more. Like right now, I am using watercolor and I don't use watercolor. But I think it turned out pretty good."

When the students are done drawing their portraits, the young artists will then take their own picture and send it back with the portrait they created. On the back of the picture, the Southern Guilford students will write a little note that includes their name and their favorite color.

"They should know everyone cares and loves them and they are not alone," Sabri said.

Since 2013, Southern Guilford art students have sketched or painted over 300 portraits for "The Memory Project." The children that receive the portraits are very grateful because they have a memory of a happy time they can always look back on. Raeford and the art students see the joy in their faces when they get pictures and videos back from the kids.

"They mentioned things about how their mother liked a certain color and that's why they were ecstatic about getting the portrait back because it had a certain color in it that reminded them of their mother," Raeford said.

Pastor enjoys hearing back from the kids as well.

"I hope they get really excited and happy that I did a good job and they hang it up and be like, 'Someone cares,'" Pastor said.

"The Memory Project" is a global effort. Since 2004, young artists have created over 130,000 portraits for kids in 47 countries.

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