Orphan children in the Congo receive portraits from IB visual artists


After record-breaking year, Notre Dame student-artists create special portraits for Congolese orphans as part of the Memory Project.

Then-senior student-artists in the International Baccalaureate art program at Notre Dame in May finished up what is becoming an annual tradition for soon-to-be college-bound NDP graduates. Each of the seniors created a portrait of an orphan living in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the "Memory Project,” a unique initiative in which art students create portraits for children and teens around the world who have been neglected, orphaned or disadvantaged.

UPDATE: A video was created to show how the children reacted to receiving their portraits. . .


The charitable nonprofit organization invites art teachers and their students to create and donate their portraits to youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence and extreme poverty.

Administrators from the Memory Project say that kids in such situations tend to have few personal keepsakes, and project organizers aim to provide them with special memories that capture a piece of their childhood – portable pieces of their personal history. As much as possible, the Memory Project also wants to help the kids see themselves as "works of art."

Sandy LewAllen, who is the chair of NDPMA’s art department, said the seniors really get into the project, the last of their Notre Dame careers.

“The artwork has been shipped and is on its way to Congo,” she said.

LewAllen also said that sometime during the summer, she likely will get photos from Congo of the orphans posing with their portraits. “It truly is heartwarming to see how excited the kids are when they receive our artwork,” she said. 

Record-breaking year

The IB artists joined with many other Notre Dame student-artists this year in creating a dynamic year full of exquisite art and big awards. In fact, the number of students taking art classes at Notre Dame has steadily grown over the years, specifically those choosing the two-year intensive IB Visual Art course.

According to LewAllen, this year, 23 Notre Dame students received recognition, topping the number of awards ever received at NDP with a total of 45 Scholastic Awards.

“That includes 16 Gold Keys, 16 Silver Keys and 13 Honorable Mentions, an American Vision Award and four ‘National’ Gold Key Art Awards — Gretchen Altenberger, Margaret Henige, Sophia Shick and Destiney Sandle — who will travel to New York City to receive their prestigious awards at Carnegie Hall,” she said.

"Having four National Gold Key winners in one school is almost unheard of," she added.

A number of this year’s seniors also earned an impressive array of art scholarships and college acceptances as a result of their academic and art performance at Notre Dame:

Gretchen Altenberger received a full-ride scholarship to the prestigious College for Creative Studies in Detroit for illustration. She also was accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design.

Margaret Henige and Alexandria Garland also received substantial scholarships from the College for Creative Studies. 

Kate Joslin will study graphic design at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, a selective college that recruits academically outstanding undergraduates across the nation.

Mariel Manzor received a full-ride Sidney J. and Irene Shipman Scholarship for science and art to the University of Michigan.

Charles Wenaas was accepted to the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.