Palatine students make contribution through art

  • Courtney Murphy of Palatine stands next to one of the 200 "peace poles" installed around Palatine thanks to a community project that she spearheaded. This one is in front of Edgebrook Community Center in Palatine.

      Courtney Murphy of Palatine stands next to one of the 200 "peace poles" installed around Palatine thanks to a community project that she spearheaded. This one is in front of Edgebrook Community Center in Palatine. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/15/2020 11:28 AM

Palatine is home to two uplifting and heartwarming art projects done by local students who wanted to make a positive contribution during difficult times.

Courtney Murphy, a senior at Fremd High School, spearheaded the "Painting Peace" project over the summer that resulted in 200 hand-painted "peace poles" installed throughout the village and Palatine Township Elementary District 15, from which she graduated.

 

Sofia Commodaro, a sixth-grader at Pleasant Hill Elementary School, did an art project last month that consisted of writing "We are in this together" in chalk in front of the district's 15 elementary schools plus John G. Conyers Learning Academy and the main office.

Both girls were recognized for their efforts Wednesday night during the District 15 board meeting.

"This really just resonates ... with what we stand for as a district," Superintendent Laurie Heinz said.

Sofia Commodaro, a sixth-grader at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Palatine, came up with the idea of writing "We are in this together" in chalk in front of 16 schools plus the main offices of Palatine Township Elementary District 15.
Sofia Commodaro, a sixth-grader at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Palatine, came up with the idea of writing "We are in this together" in chalk in front of 16 schools plus the main offices of Palatine Township Elementary District 15. - Courtesy of Wendy Luthardt

Board President Lisa Szczupaj added, "It's really exciting to see the joy that has shown up outside of our schools."

Layers of peace

The wooden peace poles are bright and colorful, painted with images like hearts, flowers, smiley faces, sunsets and peace signs.

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Courtney, who will turn 18 on Friday, said the idea for her project came from a casual conversation about peace poles that she had in late June with Kathy Millin, executive director of the nonprofit Partners for Our Communities, where Courtney volunteers and serves on the teen advisory board.

"It was a time where a lot of injustice and a lot of hate was being spread around, and I just wanted to do something about it," Courtney said. "So I thought, 'This is an avenue to make the world a better place as much as I can.'"

The initial goal was to make 100 peace poles with the help of family and friends, but the effort grew on social media, and community groups, churches and even students from Harper College joined in. Eventually 200 peace poles were finished by Sept. 21, which is International Day of Peace.

"It was amazing," said Courtney's mother, Vickie Murphy, who helped with some of the logistics like driving as far as Chicago to pick up poles. Courtney did most of the work, like priming the poles and assembling kits with paint and brushes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

People were asked to contribute $25 or $35, based on the size of the poles, to cover costs. The initiative netted $700 that Courtney donated to the after-school program held at Edgebrook Community Center, part of Partners for Our Communities.

Millin said the project was at times emotional for participants, prompting them to think about what peace means for their families and lives. "There are so many layers to it," she said.

Courtney said the project also helped her on a personal level, what with facing her senior year of high school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This was a really positive thing to do. It really just turned around my attitude about everything," she said. "Just constant positivity, it just changed my outlook on quarantine and what's going on in the world and having hope."

In it together

The chalk artwork done by Sofia, 11, was her entry into the annual PTA art contest. Her inspiration was a chance encounter at a park with a boy who didn't speak English and with whom she bonded after she offered him some of her chalk, she said. Soon after, the boy's siblings and cousins also came over to draw, she recalled.

"It made me feel really happy inside," Sofia said. "So I thought, 'What if I did this in the community? I could go to the schools and do that. I could cheer up the kids that come back to school."

Sofia spent two weekends in September drawing her chalk art. She even went back to fix her work after it rained. Her mother, Wendy Luthardt, drove her around, helping only minimally to finish up when it got late and dark, she said.

The message "We are all in this together" is about how everyone's life has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sofia said.

"I was kind of, like, reminding everyone that we are not alone in these times, we are all going through the same things," she said.

"It's also fitting because we're all going to be going back to school (in District 15) and it's all going to be different, it's going to be a stressful time, but we are all going through the same things."

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