Saving Children with Art and Heart

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Coming up soon, December 16th and 17th, a wrestling tournament at Lee's Summit High School will do double duty as a fund raising venue for an important project to rescue children suffering in war-torn regions of central East Africa.

Students at the high school are driving the fund-raiser and they are led by this week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever -- a shy girl who has stepped up with terrific talent and dedication to motivate others to join her in saving those children.

Starting a sketch for a new African-themed painting, senior Amy Van Drunen is surrounded by other artwork she's done in the past year and a half at Lee's Summit High School.  The works include a beautiful fabric map of the African continent and paintings that won her best-of-show and first place in two major regional scholastic art contests this fall.

"She's fantastic," says Manning Williams, Amy's teacher in advanced visual arts who directs her in her International Baccalaureate portfolio project at Lee's Summit High.  "She's grown so much as an artist and just confidence as a person.  Extremely talented.  You could see that last year.  She didn't think so.  In fact, so much so, she would talk to me about whether she should be in the class or not.  'Oh, Amy!' I'd say.  You could see the talent.  And the creativity.  It was there."

Her award-winning paintings were inspired by a mission trip to Nashville, TN where Amy worked with disadvantaged people, especially a little boy named Keeon.

"I really fell in love with that little kid and we connected," says Amy.  "He was my little buddy.  We did everything together."

That fire to help people in need now has fused with her love of everything that is Africa as Amy leads other teens in the Lee's Summit School District high schools in a fund-raising and awareness campaign for an organization called Invisible Children.  Amy got involved after her eyes were opened to terrible conditions in which children are living in the central East African nation of Uganda where a rebel leader and his forces have abducted small children and made them soldiers in his army. Invisible Children works to get those children out of the nightmare.

"We are never too young to make a difference," says Amy.  "And I think Invisible Children does a great job of showing that because it's mainly driven by the youth of America and Canada."

"I felt her passion and I knew she was committed to bringing it to our school," says Lee's Summit High School art teacher Angie Prindle.  Amy convinced Prindle to sign on as faculty sponsor for the Invisible Children group at LSHS.

"I think it is amazing," says Prindle, "how someone of her age can actually take something that's so big and think so much outside the box that she wasn't afraid, even though she is very shy and she's very introverted, that she would take it as a commitment.  And to me that proves such strength."

Talk about your commitment to a cause.  Amy's desire to help the struggling children of central East Africa overcome their many hardships is so deep she plans to postpone college for at least a year and live and work in Kenya.  Her boyfriend, fellow Lee's Summit High School senior Ian Baltz, will go with her and they'll work in an orphanage with small children.

"I'll be able to teach art," says Amy.  "We'll help with HIV/AIDS awareness.  And teach abstinence and stuff.  And home-based care.  We'll live in the orphanage with the kids and so we can really connect with them and help them with what they need."

Amy's had prints made of her award-winning paintings and is selling them to raise money to pay for the year-long mission trip to Kenya.

"Africa is my passion," says Amy.  "And I just don't see myself doing anything else."  Art and heart coming together in a determined, caring young woman committed to the cause of peace and saving children a half a world away.

Once again, the wrestling tournament where Amy and her team will sell items and take donations for Invisible Children is December 16th and 17th at Lee's Summit High School.  Meantime, Amy is selling prints of her artwork to help pay for her and Ian's mission trip to Kenya.  They have a blog on the web with information and a link to the Invisible Children organization. Check out http://amyandianandkenya.blogspot.com/ for more information.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments.  In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.  Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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