It’s probably fair to say that Kim Tamalonis ’91 was born to be an artist. Daughter of long-time and much beloved GA art teacher Sherry Tamalonis, Kim says her earliest memories are of working next to her mom at the kitchen table, making art. Indeed, her mom inspired her to pursue to her passion and become an artist, and art teacher. But Kim is inspired by many things, most recently by the refugee crisis and the refugees that have resettled in our area. Kim wasted no time jumping in and finding a way to help.
Now a Middle School art teacher in Rye, NY, Kim says, “Social responsibility and multicultural awareness factor heavily into designing my art curriculum.” After reading the many reports in the summer of 2015 about escalating violence and dire circumstances in Syria, Kim says she felt a call to action. “As the 2015-2016 school year started, my Rye Middle School students embraced the challenge to use art to aid Syrian children. The kids collected 100 pounds of supplies from their homes, which were sent to children in the Za’atari Refugee Camp through Seattle based non-profit, Studio Syria.” The lesson continued in the classroom, where students made pocket-sized sketchbooks, and after school they ran bake sales and raised money in other ways. “Finally, at a Rye Arts Center exhibit, the kids sold their artwork and raised over $3000, which they donated to the New Canaan, CT based Blossom Hill Foundation’s programs for children in conflict zones,” Kim proudly shares.
Kim was impassioned by the experience, and the refugee stories she continued to hear tugged at her heartstrings. With refugees having arrived in our area, she saw it as an opportunity to arrange a day of art appreciation, friendship, and fun. “I planned a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to benefit Syrian, Ethiopian, and Eritrean children. I worked in collaboration with Church World Service’s Jersey City Refugee Resettlement Office, the United Nations Association-NY (UNA-NY), the Metropolitan Museum, an amazing group of GA and Brunswick alumni, parents of alumni and teachers, and many other generous friends. The day uplifted all participants with joy. Young kids to the most erudite museum administrators spent the afternoon laughing, learning, creating, bonding, and spontaneously singing in celebration,” Kim shared. The museum visit began with Metropolitan Museum President Daniel Weiss addressing the group before educators led the children to the Islamic galleries, to make art. “At the end-of-day send-off ceremony, UNA-NY Executive Director Ann Nicol presented the children with backpacks filled with school supplies. GA past parent Hadi Hajjar offered the children games, toys, candy and useful items, like clocks and diapers. I sent each of them home with art supplies. The event was an extraordinary show of solidarity, humanitarian values, love and support by all involved,” Kim recalls.
So extraordinary in fact that Kim has been inspired to continue her work with refugees. She is organizing a gathering, perhaps a potluck dinner, and has her sights set on creating a book or other compilation of photos, art, and stories that she would like to use to raise funds for humanitarian aid. And she is already working on developing a foundation with a focus on bringing children together through art and social service. “No matter what the children’s circumstances, participants will make art or use their art to help another population of kids, thereby forging new alliances and break down barriers,” Kim shares. She envisions the foundation impacting children’s groups nationally and abroad, and plans to include art education as well as opportunities for creative expression.
Kim gives GA credit for nurturing her love of art, her love of education, and her deep appreciation for world cultures. Kim, who came to GA in Group VII, says Patsy Howard was a particular inspiration and encouragement to her, both when she was a student and when she returned to GA as an art teacher after graduating from Hamilton College. She was also greatly impacted by Tracy Kauffman-Agro ’75’s Current Events class and Carol Dixon’s World Cultures class. “Penny Liu and Jeff Schwartz inspired a love of writing and offered opportunities for community building by appointing me Greenwich Academy Press Editor-in-Chief and Daedalus Art Editor,” Kim says, adding that she has been inspired by so many GA women, both alumnae and teachers.
Ten years after returning to GA as a teacher, Kim transitioned to teach art in the Rye City School District. “I have spent the last eleven years discovering wonderful qualities that are unique to middle school girls and boys,” she says. “My students are enthusiastic, idealistic, and ready to merge interdisciplinary ideas in their artwork.”
In addition to teaching and her volunteer efforts, Kim is still creating her own art and helping others to create as well. “The world is filled with wonder,” she says, “But also with problems that governments alone cannot fix. If each of us uses our talents, resources, and drive to address issues of interest, we’ll move forward individually and together.”
Mission: Big Picture Foundation will empower middle and high school age children to use the arts to create an interactive global community. 1. Children will use the arts to communicate with other national and international groups of children in order to make friends, build networks, and learn about world cultures. 2. Children will use the arts to help other children by request or when unusual emergency situations arise. 3. Children will build their understanding of current events, geography, politics, global social issues, and contemporary art.
Children will use the arts to communicate with other groups of national and international children: Every matched group will have a blog page, where they can post pictures and videos and where they can write to each other.
Children will use the arts to help other children when problems arise from natural disasters, wars, or other unusual emergency situations: Children will create new projects or join established projects to accomplish goals. Children could knit hats for children who have lost homes in natural disasters. Children could organize concerts or plays that raise funds to enable Big Picture Foundation endeavors. Children could sell their art to raise funds for programs that help children in need.
Children will learn about world cultures, current events, geography, politics, and global social issues: Participants will identify their partner group’s geographical location on a map. Groups will ask each other questions to learn from each other. The Big Picture Projects’ website will include a world news blog, updates about past, current and future projects, and a section about artists who use art to draw attention to social issues. Kids (and eventually supporting members) will have access to an event series, including lectures, studio visits, and workshops.
Who can join? All interested children will have opportunities to connect with children from different locations. In many cases, children will take the initiative to start projects. They will define their projects, organize their work time, and communicate with partner groups under the supervision of their chosen adult advisors. While children may initiate the projects, a range of established art initiatives will enable global youth to connect with each other and to collaborate on art related endeavors. Classroom art exchanges, youth initiated projects, charitable community events, and one-on-one interactions between children of different backgrounds will develop compassionate world citizens and will connect international communities.
Why join? Big Picture Foundation will create a free and easy system to enable children’s art exchanges, children’s global communication, children’s art outreach endeavors and other related activities. Also, Big Picture Foundation will offer an exciting incentive program to encourage children’s efforts.
Where in the world will kids work on projects? Everywhere! Actual projects will happen wherever a national or international group initiates activity. Children, teachers, parents, administrators, camp counselors, and community leaders can all start group projects. Projects may develop at school, around the kitchen table, at a library, or wherever else space and supervision exist. However, at a central power hub, a core group of junior officers will have specific responsibilities. They will oversee Big Picture Foundation’ worldwide activity under adult guidance.
BIG PICTURE FOUNDATION MOTTO
Using art to develop collaborative world citizens and creative problem solvers.
BIG PICTURE FOUNDATION PROJECTS AND PROGRAMS
A variety of projects and programs will offer interested children a range of options for involvement. Children will have opportunities to join existing project, start new projects, or attend special events.
Big Picture Projects Friend Link Program– The Friend Link program will directly match English speaking middle and high school children with children who have not yet gained proficiency in English, including refugees. The buddies will arrange art “play dates” that will range from working on Big Picture Foundation exchange projects to spending afternoons going to art shows and out to lunch.
Performance Program – Budding musicians, aspiring actors, cantankerous comics, and junior promoters will be welcome to arrange community performances to benefit foundation programs.
Big Picture Group Exchange Projects – Any supervised group of children will be able to make art to exchange with any other group of children. The projects do not need to be the same from both groups. The nature of project will depend on groups’ goals and interests. Some projects may develop as tools for children to understand each other’s cultures. Other projects might simply offer fun ways for groups of kids to connect (middle school boys asked if they could exchange paper airplanes and self-made fidget toys with kids in other countries… great!).
New Exchange Projects…
Zombie Apocalypse Movies…. Initiated by an eighth grade student in Rye, groups of kids from all over the world are challenged to make home movies with the “zombie apocalypse” theme.
Computer animation shorts, with the theme: “Through the Portal.”
Song Writing and Singing, with the theme: The best things in my life.
“Magical Forest” themed drawings, paintings, or 2d art of your choice of media.
3d Robot Sculptures: They don’t have to work.
Future exchange projects that will happen when we have a budget for sending art…
Origami Cranes – Learning/Networking Project – A teacher in my district would like to lead a paper crane exchange between children in Rye and children at a school in Japan
Paper Airplanes and Fidget Toys – Learning/Networking Project – A bunch of 13 year old boys want to make paper airplanes and fidget toys for kids in refugee camps. They hope to receive airplanes in return.
Group Blogs – Each group will have an assigned blog page, where the kids will summarize intended and achieved activities.
Big Picture Outreach Projects – Outreach initiatives might also include exchanging projects. Outreach might also be a single group’s efforts to help children in critical need or a group project to support charities that help kids.
Current Outreach Projects…
Public Service Announcements: Kids are making the backdrop for public service announcements about the need for jobs for refugees.
Kandinsky inspired art that will be turned into Iron-On decals that will be sold to support DDX3X research. DDX3X is a newly discovered Autism-related syndrome.
Knit Hats – Teachers will work with interested kids to knit hats for children in need.
Future Outreach Projects…
SOS Care Packages – Kids could involve art in creating care packages for refugee kids and care packages for homeless kids, based on needs expressed by social service agencies
Kid Initiated Fundraisers – Local events to raise funds to make other projects, events, and donations feasible… walkathon, babysitting, gardening, shoveling, bake sales, garage sales, craft sales, etc.
School in Kenya – the UNA would like help raising funds for to build a school in Kenya.
Project to buy wheelchairs for the Walkabout Foundation
BIG PICTURE FOUNDATION INCENTIVE PROGRAM
In the works…
The Big Picture Foundation’ incentive program is critical to building a strong organization. Without incentives, any group will be able to follow the Big Picture Foundation model on their own. However, working together to build a global network and to develop the vision, will increase opportunities for participants and promote intercultural communication. Incentives will encourage children’s groups to collaborate with Big Picture Foundation.
Points will be assigned to children’s work. The child who writes the overview and summary of group activity will receive points. All project work will receive points. Service projects that directly help children in need will receive more points than others. Junior officers will receive points for their work to make the program a success.
Children will have the chance to exchange points for rewards. Local ice cream or pizza parlors might offer a reward for 10 points. An electronics manufacturer might offer rewards for 100 points. Children might have the chance to exchange 200 points for a voucher for a class on a college campus or for a fine art print from a contemporary artist know for work addressing issues of social justice.
Students may have the opportunity to exchange points for college classes at collaborating institutions. Ideally, the foundation goals will align with many universities’ commitments to citizenship and community building. As the list of participating colleges and universities grows, the commitment by one organization will decrease. Participating universities will directly contribute to local and global community building. Empowering children to pursue higher education goals will build resiliency and foster inclusive economies.
Students may have a chance to exchange points for limited edition contemporary art prints. Students making art for change should know about professional artists who have similar objectives. Eventually, students will have opportunities to attend lectures, visit studios, and engage in discussions with artists.
BIG PICTURE FOUNDATION JUNIOR OFFICERS
Junior Operational Officer – Oversees all activities and communicates with officers.
Junior Development Officer – Oversees fundraising activities
Junior Financial Officer – Oversees accounts/financial transparency under the supervision of a business professional
Junior Rewards Officer – Develops reward criteria and a point system, helps to communicate with community, university, and corporate collaborators
Junior Registrar – Registers new groups
Junior International Correspondence Officer – makes initial and concluding contact with connecting international schools or groups.
Junior National Correspondence Officer – makes initial and concluding contact with connecting international schools or groups.
Junior Community Relations Officer – Writes/Oversees Articles and Gives Interviews
Junior Art Program Officer – Oversees, advises, and develops art programs. Encourages Participation.
Junior Friend-Link Program Director – Connects English-speaking youth with refugees and immigrants who need to speak conversational English
Junior Internal Website Officer and IT Pro – Maintains a closed-network website for internal organization
Junior External Website Officer and IT Pro – Maintains the public homepage
Junior Compassion Officers – Create care packages for families in need. Brainstorm initiative and recruit friends to help
Junior World News Officer – In charge of keeping the group apprised of important world news, from politics to natural disasters. May keep a Week-in-Review page
Junior Media Officer – Oversees filming and photography at events
Junior Education Officer – Oversees fill-in templates for buddy groups and encourages learning opportunities.
GOALS FOR YEAR 1
Devise an easy system for local children’s groups to participate in Big Picture Foundation.
Build a clear and user friendly website.
Find an easy and inexpensive system for communicating with children. Google charges $5-$10 per business address, per month, which isn’t feasible. Thus, children will be asked to work with their parents to create supervised gmail email addresses that always forward to parents’ addresses.
Clarify roles and responsibilities of junior officers. Teach each of the junior officers how to fulfill their roles. Empower them to be creative and to take ownership of their positions.
Create an exciting incentives program that will enable kids to earn points for working on projects and then exchange points for rewards.
Identify collaborators who will offer work spaces for children’s groups. Offer spaces for meetings, performances, and art shows.
Identify collaborators who will enable the Friend Link Program by offering museum passes, train fees and lunch certificates.
Identify collaborators who will contribute rewards for the incentive program.
Artists who will create fine art prints for the organization and agree to one speaking engagement.
Schools that will accept a large number of children’s Big Picture Foundation’ points as payment for classes.
Technology, clothing, art supply, or other companies that would contribute to the incentives program.
Identify collaborators who will use media connections to report on Big Picture Foundation’ successes. Give children occasional opportunities to report on the Big Picture Foundation’ accomplishments. Offer media space for child created advertisement/information pages (children will work on projects to draw attention to specific issues, such as the current need of refugee resettlement agencies to find jobs for their clients).
Identify collaborators who will lead or supervise children’s projects
Identify collaborators who will invite children to outside lectures, workshops, and events that will:
Expand children’s education about: world cultures, contemporary social justice inspired art, global news and issues
Build a board of trustees comprised of members who will responsibly help to make the organization a success.
Find a grant to cover startup fees and subsequent operational costs.
Earn status as an official 501 c 3 non-profit organization
Build a postage budget to send kids’ art back and forth.
Build a scholarship fund for children’s groups that can’t afford supplies to create Big Picture Foundation projects.
Find enabling sponsors and one-time grant makers for Big Picture Foundation administrative costs, including 1-3 salaried positions with medical and dental insurance, professional development fees, and general office fees
Identify collaborators who will offer pro bono business, legal, and writing guidance.
GOALS FOR YEARS 2-3
Expand access to the program to kids in nearby towns.
Build a fund to commission prints from artists who address social issues in their art.
Continue to identify sponsors.
GOALS FOR YEARS 4-5
Expand access to the program to all children.
Create the Big Picture Foundation as a separate entity that will support Big Picture Foundation. Big Picture Foundation will also collect and distribute funds that children raise in efforts to support other charities that help children.
Develop programs and strategies to financially support all Big Picture endeavors.
Membership – create a membership program for adults that offers a range of benefits. Benefits will include access to lectures, events, classes, and art tours.
Paint Chips Program – work with a financial firm to develop a for-profit program (idea for the for-profit endeavor exists but has yet to be revealed)
Human Interest Links – Find online media sources willing to include small fee based links to human interest stories. Profits will be divided between the story subjects and the Big Picture Foundation.
Performance Series – Polish the children’s performance series.
Educational Programs – Develop regular children’s events to educate children on how their efforts fit into a big world picture.
Children will show kindness and consideration to others. Children will help build collaborative global communities.
If a group initiates a project and another child asks to join, the main group members will welcome the newcomer to participate. They will include the newcomer in group activities and show kindness at all times.
At Big Picture Foundation gatherings, groups of friends will participate with the whole group, rather than isolating themselves.
Children will show respect to all during in-person and online Big Picture Foundation interactions.
Children will fulfill their obligations to partner groups and to each other.
Children may participate until their 18th birthday. After that cutoff birthdate, children may continue to exchange the points they accumulated for incentive rewards.
Violations to the rules may result in warnings, forfeiture of points, or elimination from the program.
Fall 2015 – Rye youth collaborated with Studio Syria, in Seattle and with the Rye Post Office to send 100 pounds of art supplies, cards and handmade sketchbooks to the Za-atari Refugee Camp in Jordan.
Rye kids made cards to benefit the Blossom Hill Foundation’s programs to offer long-term aid to children living in conflict zones. Kids collaborated with the Rye Arts Center and with Arcade Books. Proceeds particularly helped fund a computer lab for refugee children in Turkey.
The Rye Arts Center hosted a November 2015-December 2016 exhibit and sale of children’s art. $3100 was raised and donated to the Blossom Hill Foundation
Summer 2016 –organized a day of art at the Metropolitan Museum for newly resettled refugee families. Daniel Weiss, the Metropolitan Museum president gave the welcoming address and at the end of the day, Ann Nicol, United Nations Association – NYC Executive Director, gave concluding remarks and ended the day by distributing backpacks filled with school supplies. To make the day a success, Ms. Tamalonis collaborated with the United Nations Association, with Church World Service’s refugee resettlement branch, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Pace Prints, with the Rye Arts Center, with Starbucks, and with many other sponsors.
Children have innovative ideas, they’re enthusiastic collaborators, and they throw passionate support behind causes that resonate with them. They also generate enthusiasm among their peers. The Big Picture Foundation will establish a system that encourages children to work independently, to take ownership of projects, and to feel empowered to develop their own global networking initiatives now and in the future.
A Day of Art and Joy for Refugee Children in New York
On Wednesday, August 31, the United Nations Association of New York partnered with several organizations to host a group of recently resettled refugee children and their parents at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Originally from Syria and Eritrea, the families that participated in the day are now resettled in Connecticut and New Jersey.
We journalists sometimes despair that there’s anyone left out there heeding our words and paying attention to our reporting. But stories can still have a powerful effect on readers.
Witness Kim Tamalonis, a resident of Greenwich’s backcountry who teaches art to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Rye Middle School. In the summer of last year, Tamalonis noticed a difference in the number of stories about Syrian refugees, from a few to what she aptly calls “an onslaught of headlines” — headlines that increasingly drew attention to the refugees’ life-and-death struggles to find freedom, peace and security.
“We knew it was happening. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know it,” she says. “The whole world was watching. But it seems as if with the exception of a few brave reporters, the rest of us were bystanders for this reality TV. And I thought, What is happening to the world? What is it coming to?”
Tamalonis is talking over lunch at Le Pain Quotidien on Rye’s Purchase Street, where the warm French country flavors and atmosphere contrast sharply with the subject of conversation. Few are more aware of the disparity between our fortunate circumstances here and those of the refugees than Tamalonis, who is young in spirit in the way many teachers are. She decided to take up the refugees’ cause with 140 students and their parents.
“My students have the biggest hearts and they said, ‘Yes, we want to be part of this.’ And their parents were only too happy to help.”
The students collected 100 pounds of art supplies, which the Rye Post Office mailed — free of charge — to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan through the Seattle-based nonprofit Studio Syria.
The students created artwork that was exhibited at The Rye Arts Center, along with notecards that could also be purchased. (The notecards were sold at Rye’s Arcade Booksellers as well.) The result was more than $3,100 for the Blossom Hill Foundation in New Canaan, which creates programs for children in conflict zones.
But Tamalonis wanted to do more than this, so she got in touch with Hagar Hajjar Chemali, the founding CEO of Greenwich Media Strategies, LLC, whose many titles with the federal government included director for Syria and Lebanon at the National Security Council. Chemali led her to Church World Service, the relief, development and refugee assistance arm of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, which in turn led her to the CWS’ Jersey City, New Jersey, refugee resettlement office and a group of Syrian, Ethiopian and Eritrean children. Although you may think that the refugees’ challenges are over once they pass the rigorous, yearlong screening process to get here, that is far from true, Tamalonis says. They must repay the loan for their transport to America. They have only eight months of medical care and three to six months of income. Tamalonis was determined to give 24 children and some mothers an artistic respite. She would take them to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where her mother was a volunteer docent. Getting The Met, which has a strong tradition of art education, on board was easy. Renting a bus was more of a hurdle, but through the GoFundMe link on Facebook, friends and supporters from as far as California came through. (The organization and business sponsors were J&R Tours, Inc., Mrs. Green’s in New Canaan, Pace Prints, The Rye Arts Center and Starbucks in Greenwich.)
On Aug. 31, the group set out for its art day, meeting up at the museum with a refugee family recently settled in Greenwich. In The Met’s Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education, museum President Daniel H. Weiss addressed the group before the mothers got a whirlwind tour of The Met with curatorial assistant Harout Simonian and the children enjoyed sketching and interactive experiences in the Islamic galleries with artist Azi Amiri. At the end of the day, Ann Nicol, executive director of the United Nations Association of New York, presented each child with a backpack of school supplies. And Hadi Hajjar — a successful businessman of Lebanese descent who had accompanied the group — gave them bags filled with what Tamalonis calls “joyful and practical things” like games and clocks.
That day of art has inspired Tamalonis. She wants to start a nonprofit, buy a bus for future trips, publish a book of the refugee children’s experiences and start a speakers’ bureau so that the refugee families — whose stories are in demand — can get paid for their public appearances. She carries with her memories of that day — the children presenting her with Syrian food that the mothers had packed in Tupperware containers for the trip and the kids, who did not necessarily know one another, instantly bonding.
“They were singing Syrian folk songs. They were just so happy to be on the bus on a field trip.”
Her eyes brim with tears and darn if yours don’t too as you realize that this is one woman who will never be a bystander to history.
Georgette GouveiaGeorgette Gouveia, WAG’s editor in chief, is the author of “Water Music” (Greenleaf Book Group) and “The Penalty for Holding,” which will be published next year by Less Than Three Press. They’re part of her series of novels, “The Games Men Play,” which is the name of the sports/culture blog she writes at thegamesmenplay.com. Readers may also find weekly installments of her novel “Seamless Sky” on wattpad.com.