It's not often that we hear about a teenager organizing a fundraising effort for a humanitarian project, especially if the project is in another country.
So it's a pleasure to share with you the story of Grace Savage, a senior at Valley Oaks Charter School who's using her interest in art as an avenue for raising $5,000 for the construction of a water well in Haiti.
Her endeavor is linked to a school project and driven by her firsthand knowledge of conditions in Haiti. In the past two years she has made two 10-day trips to the impoverished country as a member of her church's missionary team.
All of this has culminated in the past few weeks into a show and sale of artwork donated by local artists on Saturday evening at Olive Knolls Church. Participating artists have the choice of giving back the entire purchase price or 25 percent of the sale.
"It all goes straight to the fund," Savage said.
I learned the details of how this all came about during a recent phone conversation with the 17-year-old. Home-schooled until about two years ago, Savage began taking private art lessons about four years ago. She also has received art instruction at Valley Oaks.
Her first trip to Haiti was in 2010, six months after the 7.0 earthquake that struck the small Caribbean republic. Her job was to help build a shelter for generators in a rural community several miles from Port Au Prince, the capital.
"It's another world," she said. "There's no middle class; you're either rich or poor."
One of the first things she learned was the lack of that readily available water -- something most Americans take for granted is a precious commodity in Haiti. There was no such thing as simply turning on a tap.
"People don't have water there and it was kind of a shock," she said. "It's usually the children who do it and they have to walk a long way to get water for their families every day, so they don't go to school."
In addition to affecting her emotionally, the experience has made her more aware of the value of water here at home and has even changed her use of it.
"I can't take a shower anymore -- a regular shower," she said. "I just get in and turn the water on and then turn it off right away."
The genesis of Savage's fundraising idea was a need to fulfill a school requirement. To graduate from Valley Oaks, she explained all students must participate in senior seminar which requires each student to pick a topic they enjoy or are interested in and want to know more about.
"It must be somewhat of a learning stretch for the student," she said. "I picked Haiti for my paper; it ended up being about Haiti's evolution and how it has affected its current economical state today."
As part of the assignment, the student must do a project related to the subject.
"My dad and I were brainstorming ways that I could raise money and an art show just seemed logical," she said. "I enjoy art myself and it didn't seem like it would be too stressful for me, or too hard to find great local talent."
As a way of recruiting artists, Savage sent a "call to artists" email to Stella Mullins of the Bakersfield Art Association outlining her project. She was surprised at the result.
"It's actually kind of cool," she said. "I sent (Mullins) an email and she sent it to 174 people."
By the following day she had received four paintings and responses from others who said they wanted to contribute.
Savage is looking forward to her next visit to Haiti and she's passionate about seeing the well become a reality.
"In the long run the community will be safer, it makes it prosper and improves their social status," she said. "And it helps keep children in school because they are healthier."
Kern River Valley festivities
Christmas in the Kernville area gets under way this weekend with a candlelight stroll around Circle Park on Friday. It will be led by the 18 members of the Kern River Valley chapter of the Sweet Adelines who will sing as they lead the way through streets adjacent to the park.
"The whole park is decorated like a Santa's Village," said Cheryl Borthick, owner of Cheryl's Diner and a member of the singing group. "There's a Nativity scene done by children of Mountain View Church. The children are dressed like shepherds and they use a doll for baby Jesus."
Borthick advises dressing "warm, warm and warmer," for the occasion because nighttime temperatures this time of year in the mountain valley are in the 30- to 40-degree range.
This is the 24th year for the holiday celebration that continues on Saturday with a "Shop Hop," which is designed to encourage shoppers to "buy local," said Ariana Rogers, office manager of the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Businesses that don't have a presence in Kernville proper can set up shop in the Oddfellows Hall, which is next to the park.
The Shop Hop gets under way at 4 p.m. Saturday with a parade of classic cars followed by Santa's arrival at 5 p.m.
The band Billhillyz will perform in the park.
"They're a really cool band," Rogers said. "They play hillbilly and front porch music and dress like in the pioneer days. They've got one (musician) who plays the hammered dulcimer and she really rocks."
Used book sale
Proceeds from a sale of used books on Saturday will be used to update certain aspects of a library used by patients at the Comprehensive Blood & Cancer Center.
"Patients can borrow books or use the laptops and other electronics while they're there," said Michelle Avila, director of the CBCC Foundation. "Some of those who are receiving chemo can be there for as much as six hours."
All materials available from the library must be checked out and used on site.
A Holiday Boutique, which raises money for Relay for Life is being held in conjunction with the book sale.
Items being offered include children's hair bows and blankets, knitted and crocheted scarves, and decorative tiles and figures for home gardens.