Children thrive at Autism Tree Project Foundation's art camp in Solana Beach

By Kristina Houck

Using an assortment of arts and crafts supplies, local high school students helped several children with autism decorate Mason jars to reflect their dreams.

“We’re doing dream jars,” said 11-year-old Martinique Gray of Carmel Valley. “It’s fun!”

From dream jars to watercolor paintings, girls with autism have created various art projects during Autism Tree Project Foundation’s Girls Summer Art Camp at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s Center for a Healthy Lifestyle.

Martinique’s mother, Fran Gray, said her daughter has always used art to express herself.

“She loves it,” Fran Gray said. “Art gives them a chance to use their imagination. Our girls are very creative and have great imagination, and art is a way to express that.”

Sujatha Jeenagala said her 12-year-old daughter, Sai, showed her family and friends the watercolor painting of flowers she created during the first camp session on July 28.

“She’s very interested and so proud of her work,” said Sujatha Jeenagala, a Carmel Valley resident. “She was waiting to come back to this class.”

This is the second year the San Diego-based nonprofit organization has offered the camp, which enables girls to learn watercolor techniques and experiment with mixed media.

“It’s fun to draw,” Sai Jeenagala said. “You can draw and paint.”

Canyon Crest Academy senior Isabelle Kaplan launched the camp for girls ages 8-18 last summer. She and her mother, Elizabeth Kaplan, have worked with the Autism Tree Project Foundation for several years through the Del Sol Chapter of National Charity League, a mother-daughter philanthropic organization.

“I saw the need for it,” said Isabelle Kaplan, who is in the art conservatory program at school. “These girls all have such creative potential and enormous imaginations. They love art, but some of the girls have difficulty expressing themselves. I just wanted to make an opportunity for them to be able to learn and develop their technique, but be open-ended so they can express themselves.”

National Charity League first partnered with the Autism Tree Project Foundation to create the Girls Mentor Program, which pairs autistic girls with NCL girls for girls-only events. More than 85 girls with autism are currently participating in the program.

“I’m really proud of her,” said former art teacher Elizabeth Kaplan, Isabelle’s mother. “I feel like NCL has been a great experience for her because she’s learned so much and she’s really connected with a lot of girls through the Autism Tree Project Foundation.”

Before heading to college in fall 2014, Isabelle Kaplan plans to lead another camp next summer and train other local art students to continue the program.

“Our children have so much to give and have so many talents,” Fran Gray said. “If we don’t provide an opportunity for them to demonstrate what they know and a chance to be in an environment where they can express themselves, we’ll never know what they’re capable of.”

To RSVP for the two remaining camp sessions on Aug. 11 and 18, contact Lisa Kaufmann at 619-222-4465 or lisa@autismtreeproject.org.

For more information about the Autism Tree Project Foundation, visit www.autismtreeproject.org.

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