John Burroughs High School’s Portraits of Kindness Program Creates Portraits for Children and Single Mothers in Malawi, Africa

JBHS Portraits of Kindness. Photo Courtesy of Julie Grene.

The John Burroughs High School Portraits of Kindness program is a school club organized by Library Coordinator Julie Grene, and Art Teacher Karen Nakashima, where students create portraits for single mothers and their children across the world.  During Spring Break, Grene and Nakashima will be flying to Malawi, Africa, to deliver the portraits in person.

For the past 12 years, the JBHS Portraits of Kindness program has partnered with a non-profit organization called The Memory Project, who has handled the portrait delivery each year. The organization acts as the connection between schools and caregivers, schools, orphanages and refugee camps around the world. 

Participants of The Memory Project are facing extreme challenges and typically have very few possessions, so the portraits act as meaningful mementos of their childhood.  The JBHS students enjoy being a part of it not only because they improve their art skills, but because they learn kindness, compassion, empathy, and global awareness.

JBHS Portraits of Kindness. Photo Courtesy of Julie Grene.

“This project is dear to my heart,” said Grene. “This marks the 13th year of the JBHS Portraits of Kindness program. Its purpose is promoting cultural understanding and international kindness through art.” Through the program, over 500 portraits have been gifted to children in 19 countries including Sierra Leone, Vietnam, Rwanda, Nepal, Philippines, India, Colombia, Ukraine, Madagascar, Peru, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Venezuela, Cameroon, and more. This year JBHS is partnering directly with Malawi, Africa.

Janel, who works as campus security at JBHS has a friend working in Malawi who created a community, called Chipatso, for single mothers and their children, that works to provide access to education and a better living condition. The Memory Project wasn’t able to add this community to their connections in time, so Grene and Nakashima decided to take the project on themselves, and deliver the portraits personally to Chipatso.

“We are super excited about the unexpected and somewhat unknown adventure of it!” said Grene.  This year 46 students have joined Portraits of Kindness to create personalized, handmade portraits for 35 children and their mothers in Malawi.  Many of the students have been doing this program for all four years at JBHS and use the experience on their college applications and essays.

JBHS Portraits of Kindness. Photo Courtesy of Julie Grene.

On top of the portraits, the students will also be making friendship bracelets for their partners, and while Grene and Nakashima are in Malawi they will lead the Chipatso community in making bracelets to bring back to the students, and will teach them a lesson in origami folding. 

“We have also pivoted to include not only portraits but the choice to create ‘identity art’ incorporating the child’s name, dreams and activities into a piece of art. This allows those student artists who are not confident in their portraiture to participate in another way,” added Grene.

The JBHS Student Store has a donation link to help support Portraits of Kindness on their journey this year so that they can purchase the portrait mats, backing boards, plastic sleeves, origami supplies, and anything extra will help support Grene and Nakashima on their travel and for a monetary donation to Chipatso. To make a (tax deductible) donation go to:

All students are welcome to join Portraits of Kindness, and can find out more info during Club Rush at school.  Students and families are invited to stop by the library during Open House this month to see the club’s scrapbooks on display which hold copies of every portrait that has been created over the years

JBHS Portraits of Kindness. Photo Courtesy of Julie Grene.

“Creating a portrait is a thoughtful and personal endeavor that creates a special bond between artist and subject. Even though, in all likelihood, the two will never meet in person, both the child and artist will carry this memory with them throughout their lives,” said Grene. “The most important aspect of this of this project is that student who participate do this work from a place of caring in their hearts.”

Click for more information on The Memory Project.

Click to see Chipatso on Instagram.

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