McGraw recently led a talented team of resident high schoolers ranging between the ages of 14 and 18 to sketch and paint their biggest, wildest dreams in a landscaping mural at Father Joe’s 4th Street location. The vibrant dream backdrop that graces one of the building’s largest rooms, stands as a testament to talent, determination and aspirations.
“No one can assume their dreams just by looking at the mural, but you know that these kids want more,” said the 34-year-old former Marine. “I wouldn’t have expected teenagers to be this excited or talented, but they were. Their artistic ability really knocked my socks off. These kids deserve to be proud of their work.”
McGraw initiated the project by teaching a series of “building dreams” art classes at Father Joe’s prior to posting their blown-up sketches on the wall. While the mural’s subject and title was “their idea,” completing the project was a “collective” effort. Jim Vargas – aka Deacon Jim – CEO and president of Father Joe’s Villages, immediately approved the project; Father Joe’s purchased the materials; and McGraw offered her guidance.
“I incorporated visualization tactics to spark ideas, gave the kids painting rules and references and I brought in painting books with lessons and tips,” she said. “They drew their dreams and I put them up on the wall. If their dreams included climbing the tallest mountain, I suggested that they draw themselves on top.”
According to McGraw, once the sketches were up, the kids painted for hours. McGraw helped upon request and lent her artistic hand to “tie-in the in-between so that pieces flowed into each other, over window sills, ceilings and anything they could legally paint over.”
The art teacher encouraged headphones for listening to music while they painted. “I enjoy listening to music while I paint,” she explained. “I detach and go into a complete state of flow. Once the kids started, some painted for hours at a time.”
Although the mural took almost a month to complete, the kids stuck by McGraw, “pumped to paint.” McGraw stated that she was nervous working with the teenagers because “I’m used to teaching younger kids.” However, the experience fueled her to dream big. McGraw plans on gathering kids of all ages to paint murals all over the world.
Grounded in humility, McGraw’s initiation into painting large murals may surprise you. The art teacher had recently purchased a condo in need of a new floor. In order to avoid an expensive payment for new construction, McGraw painted a mural on the existing floor. Word of mouth quickly spread. Father Joe’s Villages found McGraw “at the right place, at the right time.”
McGraw is no stranger to helping those in need through the power of art. Not only has she worked with kids at Young at Art Children’s Creative Center, a “positive and nurturing environment” that encourages children to express themselves artistically through painting, pottery, photography, pastels, mixed media, sculpture and crafts, McGraw also built a towering raw-wood installation for the Hunger Coalition featuring vignettes of San Diego’s hungry.
“I proudly served as a Marine,” said McGraw. “Since leaving, I’ve wanted to have a job that made me as proud as I am to be a Marine. Painting this mural with the kids of Father Joe’s gave me that experience. I’m going to paint murals with kids all over the world, I just haven’t figured out how – yet – but I will. Murals painted for the community by their very own community artists.”
“The mural is a great opportunity for these kids to express themselves not only as artists but in varied ways,” added Deacon Jim. “The mural’s an artistic piece that expresses the unique qualities of every student. Some of our kids are shy, but through art – whether it’s visual, singing or playing an instrument – they come alive to express themselves, and blossom to fruition.
“They see their talent and become encouraged to grow out of themselves and do more. Several students even surprised themselves. They knew what they could do on a small scale, but seeing their work on such a large scale enabled them to see how talented they really are.”
Father Joe’s Villages, San Diego’s largest homeless services provider, works to empower its residents to achieve independence. Serving 3,000 meals daily to infants, adolescents, adults and seniors, Father Joe’s provides housing, healthcare, clothing, education and child development under the guise of “one-stop shopping.”
According to Father Joe’s Villages, “Father Joe’s offers solutions to address the complex needs of the homeless, regardless of age, race, culture or beliefs. The organization’s primary goal is to transform lives and end the cycle of homelessness for the nearly 8,700 homeless individuals in San Diego County.” Their mission, they say, “Is made possible only through the efforts of compassionate staff, dedicated volunteers, and generous public and private donors.”
“The vivid mural is a reminder for the students to keep reaching for their goals,” concluded McGraw. “These kids are proud of their work and so am I.”