My Day Volunteering with Catholic Charities

Posted on May 9, 2017 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Painting with a Purpose…to Brighten Lives

By Karen Daly

Editor, Researcher, Writer & Volunteer Charity in Action Blogger

Alivia volunteering at Kennedy Center with her mom, Lakisha Morris

An ebullient first grader named Alivia, daughter of Catholic Charities’ own Agency Relations Associate Director Lakisha Morris, greeted me in the auditorium of the Lt. Joseph Kennedy Jr. Community Memorial Center on West 134th Street on Saturday, April 29.

Volunteers, children and adults, had gathered for Catholic Charities’ Archdiocesan Day of Service events when they could have been enjoying the beautiful sunshine on this summer-like day. Our event was a paint party, dubbed “Painting with A Purpose”, as the results of our artistic efforts would grace the walls of Catholic Charities Beacon of Hope Division.

Beacon of Hope House (BOHH) operates residences and a day program for approximately 400 individuals for persons with serious and persistent mental illnesses.


An Oasis of Help & Hope

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, after high fiving the youngsters, offered a warm greeting and expression of thanks for our service. He called the Kennedy Community Center  “ …an oasis of help and hope in the Harlem communities” for its many programs, especially its senior center and its youth program. Msgr. Sullivan promised that today we would “beautify someone’s life” by making this art. Who knew that we’d have such fun and learn so much in the process?  

To accomplish our task, Catholic Charities brought Ryan and Laura, two wonderful folks from The Paint Place NY (The, to run the session. Volunteers found a blank canvas, paint palettes and all the necessary brushes arranged at their places.


How to Paint Like Monet

Ryan hopped on the stage and described the supplies — plasticized acrylic paint that dries in 2 minutes and a variety of brushes for different effects.

Our goal was to create a flower painting. Our  model was a facsimile of a famous Monet painting of yellow lilies set on a vivid pink and blue background. 

That goal may have seemed intimidating, but Ryan’s clear instructions and Laura’s encouraging hands-on help made the goal seem reachable and enjoyable. First Ryan showed how to mix colors for a pink shade, and with a dip of the brush, we were painting. A heavenly blue enhanced the vibrant pink background. Next Ryan demonstrated  how to  create the green stalks and leaves by applying different pressure to the brush strokes. Yellow lilies were the final, and focal element. 

For two hours, participants eagerly decorated their canvases, following Ryan’s basic instructions and enhancing them with their own endless creativity. Laura circled the floor, making sure to offer individual encouragement,  suggestions  and occasionally, a finishing touch.


Thumbprints & Cherry Blossoms

I was fascinated to see each person’s unique approach to the canvas as well as their concentration. Some volunteers  conferred with companions and some focused intensively on their strokes. Jennifer, a volunteer and grad student in psychology, found the concentration “therapeutic.”  Each person expressed his or her individuality. A group of middle-school boys had determined from the start to do their own thing. The leader of the group, and the oldest at 13, Augustin, set out to recreate a nighttime cityscape photo. He did a remarkable job on his first-ever painting. His brother Ethan, 10,  and the other boys chose to work with darker palettes. No pastel flowers for these fellas!

Meantime, Ryan taught us how to create high-impact hydrangeas and  pansies. So even more flowers decorated many canvases. Some lucky folks got to work on a second canvas, and Ryan showed a cool way to create cherry blossoms with finger paint. Hint:  just dip your thumb  into pink and white paint, tap in four adjacent spots places on the canvas,  and, voila! a lovely bloom.

By the end of the session,  a happy and stimulated group proudly gathered  almost 70 one-of-a-kind  paintings to brighten the rooms and lives at Beacon of Hope. In the process, we nurtured our own creativity, and some volunteers told me that they’d discovered a hidden or untapped talent.  You can be sure we’ll be excited to have the chance to “Paint with a Purpose” again.


From landscape painting to teaching English to clearing parks, when it comes to Catholic Charities volunteer opportunities, you name it; we’ve got it.


Find a Catholic Charities volunteer opportunity tailored just for you

Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

For Help Call 888-744-7900