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A Heart for Art

BASIS Chandler Senior and Art Teacher Sahitha Vuddagiri Shows Youth What the Arts Can do Through her Nonprofit EaselArts

Sahitha Vuddagiri spends much of her time leading art classes, partnering with heads of nonprofits, and cutting fundraising checks for charitable organizations.

And at the age of 16, the BASIS Chandler charter school senior is a veteran of the arts education and nonprofit world. She has taught art classes and workshops since the age of 13, and runs EaselArts (EaselArts.com), her nonprofit organization that supports arts advocacy, organizes workshops, and donates funds to a variety of causes, including foster care, girls’ education, and nutrition in third world countries, to name a few.

EaselArts raises funds through art workshops and classes for all ages. Vuddagiri drew from her experiences with the Youth Arts Council for the Chandler Center of the Arts to help shape EaselArts.

Over the last four years, EaselArts has raised and donated more than $20,000 and reached more than 150 kids.

The children Vuddagiri’s organization has touched are a few years older than she was when she first fell in love with art.

She was 5 when she took an art class with her mother at Hobby Lobby. From there Vuddagiri continued to indulge her interest that spans oil painting, charcoal drawing, sculpting, and installation pieces.

Vuddagiri partners with other organizations for these and other events, many of which serve as art therapy. Her collaboration with the nonprofit ASA Now, for which she taught to foster youth, sparked her interest in art therapy and arts advocacy. It has also piqued an interest in pursuing art—along with psychology—in college.

“Art classes may not seem like much, but it allows children to channel their emotions and time into these creative outlets. It gives them control over something,” she says.

Art therapy, she explains, is an unlikely combination in her Indian American community. Vuddagiri is the first in her family—most of whom are engineers—to display a powerful and serious passion for the arts. She receives full support from her parents, who embrace and are proud of their daughter’s talents, drive, and accomplishments.

“Art plays a big role in Indian culture, but not as a career. Same thing with therapy and seeking help with mental health. So, art therapy is something completely new,” Vuddagiri says.

But, the kids aren’t the only ones getting an education.

At the end of art workshops, students present their work and share what they liked and what they learned. Vuddagiri finds their words inspiring, and discovers how art has influenced their lives.

“I like hearing about their experiences, too,” she says. “I’ve been learning along with them.”

A One-Girl Army

Published author Ashley Nevison uses the Profits from her Children’s Book Series to Fund her Nonprofit, Sargeant’s Army, Which Provides Hope to the Homeless

At 14, Ashley Nevison has a schedule that rivals that of adults putting in 60-hour work weeks.

While gearing up for her freshman year at ASU Preparatory Digital online high school, she’s a scholarship pageant competitor, and was crowned Royal International Miss Arizona Preteen 2020. She dances with the Russian Ballet Academy, and will start training next year at the Yen-Li Chen Ballet School.

And, there’s her One World One Future podcast that focuses on volunteers making an impact in their communities.

This is an area Nevison knows well.

In 2018, Nevison started Sargeant’s Army (SargeantsArmy.org), her nonprofit that provides hygiene bags filled with toiletries for the homeless, and toys and blankets for cats waiting to be adopted.

Since last October, more than 12,600 of Nevison’s Hope Bags have been distributed throughout Arizona through 22 nonprofit organizations.

Nevison is now in talks to expand her reach to Utah and Nevada.

“I like to spend my time giving back,” Nevison says.

When shipments arrive, the Nevison living room transforms into Sargeant’s Army’s headquarters. Think pallets of boxes filled with thousands of combs and razors. They remain stacked in a corner until it’s time to build the bags.

“When we pack, it spreads out everywhere. It’s very chaotic,” Nevison says with a laugh.

As head of the nonprofit, she packs most of the bags, does the social media, and handles the majority of the grant writing. She recently organized a team of volunteers to help with packing.

Nevison has become an advocate of anti-bullying, a driving theme behind The Monster Bully series—three children's books she authored, published, and illustrated. All profits from the series fund Sargeant’s Army.

Nevison was bullied at age 8. Now, teaching young children to recognize and work through it is part of her mission.

“In the end, I lost all my confidence and self-esteem. I wish I would’ve been able to stand up for myself,” she says. “I want to give kids confidence they may not have so they can have the tools so they can stand up,” she says.

And thanks to her nonprofit, homeless adults get a boost that may help them stand a little taller.

Nevison talks about one occasion when she dropped off hundreds of Hope Bags at the Human Services Campus in Phoenix.

“I saw all the homeless people in tents. All of those people are going to be impacted by the work I did,” she says. She pauses for a few seconds. “That’s when I realized, wow, this is really helping a lot of people.”

Moment in Time

Hamilton High School Junior Arnav Ved’s Painting-like Photograph Takes a Win at The Nature Conservancy’s 8th Annual Adventures in Nature Photo Contest

What started as a photography class assignment ended up giving Hamilton High School junior Arnav Ved much more than a grade.

Ved’s stunning, up-close photo of three avocets standing in shallow water at the Gilbert Riparian Nature Preserve captured third place in the in The Nature Conservancy’s 8th Annual Adventures in Nature Photo Contest this spring.

The photograph, taken with a Nikon D7100, was among 3,742 entries—the most received in the contest’s history—and came with a $1,000 prize. The vibrancy, picturesque rippling of the water, sun’s reflection in the foreground, and splashes of autumn shades the background made for such an impressive visual that judges commented that Ved’s photograph looked like a painting.

“I took it in November. It was in middle of fall, so the colors were very nice,” recalls Ved, 16, who was about 30 feet away from his subjects. “I saw the three birds in the middle of the water, took my zoom lens out and took the picture.”

The panel of judges were photographers Suzanne Mathia and Mark Skalney, former University of Arizona President John Schaefer, Arizona Highways magazine Photo Editor Jeff Kida, Arizona Daily Star Photo Editor Rick Wiley, and former University of Arizona Music Professor Bob Billups. The contest drew entries from photographers ages 13-18.

“I haven’t been taking photos for that long. I was definitely surprised I won,” Ved says.

Ved was at the nature preserve taking photos with his father, an avid photographer. Ved, however, didn’t start pursuing his father’s hobby seriously for himself until the start of his sophomore year. In fact, he wasn’t aware of the nuances and techniques of photography and professional cameras before then.

Ved was in the eighth grade and on a tour of high schools when he learned about a high school photography class that piqued his interest. He took that class as a sophomore, for which he took the future award-winning photograph.

His photography teacher suggested he enter this photo and others he took for the class into the contest.

An AP and honors student, Ved eyes a career in medicine but now views photography has an added option for his college studies. He is also considering starting a photography business on the side.

Ved credits his teacher and father with helping him discover and embrace the craft.

“The fact you can capture a moment very well in just one picture, is a great thing,” Ved says. “It’s art, and it can freeze any moment in time and showcase it in a beautiful way.”

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