Hannah Bergwell wanted to help children with autism have fun and overcome their tendency to keep to themselves. So she used her own talent, labor and skills to do just that.
She started an art club for students with autism at her high school where she attends eleventh grade classes. The kids engage in fun, interactive easy-to-do projects that Hannah comes up with each week. Along the way, their friendships deepen, they get a sense of accomplishment and they gain a better appreciation for art.
Josh, her older brother, has Asperger’s Syndrome. Hannah was always looking out for him while they were in school together. She was frustrated by his being left out and misunderstood because of his inability to socialize. After he transferred out, she was determined to raise awareness about autism at her school.
Her art club idea spread to the local middle school, which she also oversees. “It’s been really great to see them open up emotionally and really express themselves,” Hannah said.
In order to pay for the art supplies for both clubs including canvas, paint and brushes, she started a side job selling elaborately-styled custom-painted canvas shoes. At first a hobby, demand grew to the point where she could charge $15 for the colorful creations, each pair taking two to four hours to make.
“The shoes allow me to get the student body involved in what I’m doing and to be aware of my art,” Bergwell states. They also give me the opportunity to have a creative outlet since I’m too busy to take art classes.”
Hannah loved painting as a youngster. “My older sister was really good at art. My little sister and I used to compete to see who could get the most attention from her art-wise,” she recalls. We used to draw pictures and paint for her to see whose artwork she liked the most.” Her mother also encouraged her to paint.
Her efforts culminated in an art show on November 30, 2012, that featured works by Hannah, her fellow student artists and students with autism. Through the silent auction and donations, Art For Autism raised $7,500, all of which was donated to Autism Speaks, an organization that means a lot to her.
“I was really very happy with how it turned out,” she said. “The number of the people that came to support it was really great. And the whole thing was just a big success. Every single piece that was on display got a bid, so that was really exciting.”