A Georgia mural helps students soar through the pandemic.
By Cindy Dashnaw
Tammy Carden — entrepreneur, coffee shop owner, substitute teacher, film location scout and member of the Warrenton Kiwanis Club in Georgia — knew that internet access didn’t reach many families in her rural, 210-year-old town. So she had been helping students attend classes virtually during the pandemic by using the Wi-Fi at her cafe. But as the kids dealt with this unfamiliar school format, Carden could sense their frustration.
“They weren’t getting into school often enough to feel like they were accomplishing much, and the older ones were upset because they knew they wouldn’t get a prom or graduation ceremony,” she says. “So I said to my husband [Ron Carden, then Georgia Kiwanis Division 6 lieutenant governor], ‘We’ve got to let them blow off some steam. We need to reassure them that it doesn’t matter how or where they’re educated. An education will give them the wings to fly.’”
Standing before the cafe’s broad, nearly colorless outside wall one day, she decided to turn it into a canvas for a mural painted by and serving as inspiration for Warrenton’s young people.
“I asked an artist who happened to be stuck in town because of COVID if he’d design a mural with a wings theme, ‘Let Them Soar.’ Charles Gabel agreed to paint the design like a big coloring book and help children paint the spaces. The kids could learn and express themselves through art,” Carden explains.
They’d need quite a bit of paint to cover the three 8-by-12 sections of wall. When she told the Warrenton Kiwanis Club she had some support but not nearly enough, the club promised to make sure Gabel and the kids had everything they needed.
“The kids even had cinder blocks to stand on so they could reach the top,” Carden says, laughing.
Carden’s timing was serendipitous. Delayed since spring because of COVID-19, the town’s annual arts festival occurred during this project. Working with the town’s vibrant community development initiative, Carden made mural painting part of the festivities.
The artwork was finished in February 2021. The brilliant purples, greens, reds and whites of birds, insects and all types of wings have become a popular backdrop for family and graduation photos.
“At any given time during the day, someone is standing in front of that mural,” Carden says. “It’s become a community thing.”
This story originally appeared in the June/July 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.