Talk to Blue Valley North junior Hannah Bergwell and you will quickly discover two things: She loves art and she loves her brother even more.
So it just seemed natural when she combined these two loves into an art show called “Art for Autism,” held last Friday night at the high school. The event raised a whopping $7,500.
Bergwell’s older brother, Josh, has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Inspired by her admiration for Josh, she set out to raise awareness about autism so that others would be more accepting of students on the autism spectrum.
“I don’t want people to feel labeled,” Bergwell said. “It is important to keep an open mind when you work with these individuals.”
To foster understanding, Bergwell paired students in the gifted program with students in the Navigators special education program at Blue Valley North and Overland Trail Middle School. Together, the students formed an art club and worked on art projects that were displayed at the show. Through the creative process, special relationships were born.
“I remember Josh was kind of lost when he entered high school,” Bergwell said. “So I really tried to get the middle school students to have a mentor before high school so they would not feel so alone.”
Bergwell worked on art projects with the students in the Navigators program once a week over the summer and school year. For teachers, the project proved to be an opportunity to involve their students in an extracurricular activity.
“This project made the kids feel like they were really important,” said Kristi Herschberger, Navigators program teacher at Blue Valley North High School. “This art show may be one of the only events some of these students come to throughout their high school career.”
Principals at the two schools were not surprised when Bergwell came up with the idea for the art show.
“Hannah has always been open-minded and accepting of all students,” said Overland Trail Middle School Principal Phoebe Lewis. “She is always the first person to ask what she can do to help.”
“Hannah is very motivated and a real self-starter,” said Blue Valley North Principal David Stubblefield.
That motivation came in handy when it came time for Bergwell to pay for the art show. Art supplies can be quite expensive and she needed a way to pay for the canvas, paint and brushes that the students would use. Her solution? She started a side job painting works of art on her friends’ white tennis shoes.
“I charged $15 for the shoes and ended up raising $400 that I used to buy art supplies,” Bergwell said.
The artwork created by Bergwell and members of the art club was sold in a silent auction at Friday night’s show. Through bids and donations, the “Art for Autism” show raised $7,500. Bergwell will donate all of the proceeds to the organization Autism Speaks. She hopes to make the art show an annual event.
So what does her brother Josh think about all of her enterprising efforts to raise awareness about autism?
“He thinks it’s cool,” said his mom, Cheryl Bergwell.