Michelle Kelley considers her children more than survivors and much more than victims.
They are champions.
“They're champions because honestly of the work that we've gotten through Sunbeam and Educare. They are going to be completely different people than they were headed to be when we got them,” Kelley said.
In 2010, Kelley began fostering — and later adopted — Izzy, who just turned 7, and Noah, 4, through Sunbeam Family Services, a nonprofit that serves central Oklahoma's most vulnerable citizens.
The siblings started their critical early childhood education at Oklahoma City Educare, a special school for at-risk children ages birth to 5, for which Sunbeam is managing partner.
Oklahoma City painter Sue Hale captured the Kelleys' uplifting story in “Forever Family,” the title painting of her new art exhibition benefiting OKC Educare. The fundraising exhibit opens Friday night during the monthly Paseo Gallery Walk at In Your Eye Studio & Gallery.
“I think Oklahoma City Educare is just critical to this community,” said Hale, one of 12 gallery artists at In Your Eye. “You know, every child is an artist. In fact, if you ask them, they all raise their hands.”
For the third year, the artist is making her annual showcase at In Your Eye a benefit for a worthy nonprofit. Hale became close friends with Kelley and Kelli Dupuy, Sunbeam's director of marketing and development, during their long tenures at the Oklahoma Publishing Co., giving the painter a close-up view of the specialized schooling and care OKC Educare offers its 212 students.
“It is a national model and ... we are working with children who are at risk for school failure, which means a lot of different things. We're working with children who come from backgrounds of generational poverty, domestic violence, chronic unemployment. We serve children in foster care, we serve children with behavioral needs and identified special needs, all those different factors that really serve as barriers to success for students,” Dupuy said.
Throughout November, Hale will exhibit about 20 paintings in a wide range of sizes, along with hand-painted trinket boxes, prints and greeting cards, with all sales benefiting Educare. In addition, several other In Your Eye artists have donated pieces that will be sold to benefit the educational program.
Plus, the gallery will showcase this month about 20 paintings created by 4- and 5-year-olds in OKC Educare's prekindergarten classes. All proceeds from sales of the student artwork also will go to the school.
“I love this. This has potential,” Hale said, looking at several canvases adorned with bright streaks of paint or abstracted flowers. “That is stunning. It's stunning. And look at this ...”
“It's a great program, and I really have a soft spot in my heart for these kids.”
Since both her children attended Educare classes, Kelley can attest to the power of the program, especially for Izzy, who was 4 when she came to live with her future forever mom.
“We discovered pretty quickly ... she had been traumatized and had not gotten any counseling, trauma intervention, anything. I also realized that she could only count to six and only knew pink and purple. Well, she was a year from starting kindergarten,” Kelley said.
“Thankfully, we were at Educare, and Educare helped me really hit all of the things we really needed to hit at once. ... Within nine months, she was ready to start kindergarten.”
For Hale, her friend's inspirational family story was worth sharing, so she painted their portrait.
“I wanted to do something that shows foster care ... that people can take these kids into their hearts and really make it work,” Hale said.
The artist worked from a photograph of Izzy's fifth birthday party to create her portrait of the mother and her two children happily perched atop a hay bale.
“She had never had a birthday party before and ... that was the first time I think that she had been celebrated as a person,” Kelley recalled.
“It was just a really sweet day and sweet picture for Sue to pick for that. ... It's just a real honor to be a part of this whole thing.”