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Students Design One-of-a-Kind Holiday Ornaments to Help Shelter Dogs & Cats

by on December 12, 2013 8:00 AM

Molly Gazda's art students may not be quite as good as Picasso or Rembrandt, but when it comes to helping the community these kids have produced some bona fide masterpieces.

For the past four years, students at Park Forest Middle School have been designing holiday ornaments; showcasing their artistic skills and a surprisingly strong desire to help the community. Once again, their amazing ornaments will grace one of the displays at the annual Festival of Trees.

Specifically, their dazzling decorations will light up the tree sponsored by Centre County PAWS, the local animal shelter. In year's past, the kids have made ornaments using tons of artistic talent, clay, painted metal plates and in 2013 -- fabric dolls sewn to look like dogs and cats.

The ornaments are truly one-of-a-kind. For Gazda's students it's a lot of fun. Eighth grader, Bryn Hawbaker named her ornament "Scruffy." "I think they turned out really well," she says. "It was fun because it was a group project. You and a partner would work on it and it was kinda of like it was your own little animal."

Classmate Bella DiVirgilio also enjoyed the creative aspect. "Just making the ornaments was a really cool idea, she says. "We had stencils to copy ... but we also had our own little twist on things, what fabric we would choose and how to stitch it together. It was fun."

The Festival of Trees gives the kids an outlet for their twin passions -- art and animals.

"I love animals and I sometimes volunteer at PAWS," says eighth grader Anna Harris. "So what I'm doing in school is also helping the thing I do at PAWS."

You might think that getting young boys to pick up a needle and thread might be a challenge, but that's not the case. "It's pretty fun -- for some people, they don't really know how to do sewing and stuff so there's some teaching involved, but it's well worth it," says student Trevor Barlock. "It makes you feel you've done something great to help someone else. ... We feel good about it."

Gazda says she dreams up the ideas for the ornaments, mostly because she has to scrounge up the materials to make them. More than 100 students help out, making this a collaborative work or art.

"The kids really enjoy it because if one child starts a project ...  the next class adopts it, just like PAWS adopts animals, and somebody can adopt your animal and continue working on it," she says. "Each ornament isn't done by one particular student, it could be done by a lot of kids."

Anna Harris points out, "We're all working together so we all want it to look good. So we're always complimenting and giving ideas about other people's ornaments to help with the tree."

According to Gazda the design work follows a free form model. "If they say, 'Oh, I have this kind of dog at home, can I do one like that?' It's like you betcha!"

Preston Gardner, another eighth grader, says he really enjoyed sewing and watching the ornaments come to life. "I thought it was pretty cool," he says. "I really support PAWS. I think its a great cause."

The people at PAWS just might say the same thing about the kids. Shelter Supervisor Lisa Bahr says it's obvious that the children feel like they're doing something special. "You can tell that they put a lot of effort and a lot of care into each of the ornaments," she says.

"They're really proud of the ornaments and it shows. We love to have them and then we distribute them to our volunteers after the Festival of Trees. I have one from every year at home and it's such a nice reminder about how much our community cares about us."

You can see the students' amazing handicrafts at the 19th annual Festival of the Trees, which helps raise money for the Centre County United Way. The Festival Trees is held at the Central PA Institute of Science and Technology beginning on Friday, Dec. 13, at 4 p.m. The event, which is part of the Bellefonte Victorian Christmas Celebration continues through the weekend.

Click HERE for more information about the Festival of Trees.

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Photo Gallery - Festival of Trees Ornaments



Steve Bauer is Managing Editor & Chief Content Officer at StateCollege.com. Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College with their Golden Retriever Izzy and a wacky foster dog named Treasure. You can e-mail Steve at Steve.Bauer@StateCollege.com and you can follow us @StateCollege.com
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