By ETHAN STARK-MILLER
The past 19 months of on-and-off lockdowns and virtual school have made the coronavirus pandemic a particularly difficult time for children, limiting their face-to-face interactions.
But Mino Lora is trying to fill that void locally — and help a neighbor — with a community art sale this weekend.
“Especially at this time when children have been so affected by COVID, or by this year,” Lora said. “And seeing how, both as an educator and as a mother, coming back to social interactions and social places is a lot for kids. So finding ways for young people to interact with each other — even when it’s remote. And also to know you’re as a young person you can still change something.”
In addition to being a good activity for pandemic-tired children, the theater’s nonprofit director and former city councilor says the purpose of the art sale is to raise money for a 4-year-old girl in her building who fights cancer. The kids will be raising money for their art at 3503 Johnson Ave., Starbucks on Sunday, October 17 from 2-4pm.
The girl, whose parents wished to remain anonymous, is good friends with Lora’s 8-year-old daughter, Emma Lucía. Wanting to help her friend through a difficult time, Emma Lucía came up with the idea of doing something to raise money for Memorial Sloan Kettering Children’s Cancer Center – the hospital where her friend is being treated.
“I decided I could raise money and give it to her,” said Emma Lucía, “so they can have more activities for the kids while they’re doing the chemo.”
Lora took the idea from there and used her community organizing skills to grow her daughter’s concept into a bigger project. Lora reached out to other parents and easily brought in more than half a dozen others to join her.
But Lora didn’t stop there. She then boosted the event on her social media feeds to attract even more kids from Harlem and Washington Heights — both neighborhoods where Lora has worked as an art educator. She is even setting up an online page to accept donations from families who can’t make it to Sunday’s event.
“I asked moms and parents in the building and in the community, and it started to grow,” Lora said. “Then it was about art, precisely because our friend loves to make art. And one of the things Memorial Sloan Kettering has helped is that they do art projects with children in treatment. So crafting is one of her favorite activities that the nurses bring with them when she spends the day there.”
And coincidentally, Lora’s family is also very artistic. Emma Lucía likes to paint, Lora said, but she also made drawings and even a collage of shells collected in Lora’s homeland, the Dominican Republic.
Annabella Sykes and younger sister Maya bring their own artistic vision to the auction with a series of paintings and drawings featuring hearts.
“I think the sentiment was for them to show they cared,” said Cynthia Carrion, the young girls’ mother.
“And the symbol for them was hearts.”
With a goal of raising $300, Emma Lucía suggested donations for her artwork range between $5 and $20. Simpler works like watercolors are on the lower end, while complex pieces that use more materials are priced higher.
“She said, ‘This one uses multimedia, so this one is more expensive,'” Lora said. “She always comes up to me and she says, ‘What do you think of the price?’ And I’m like, ‘You know it’s suggested at the end.’ But she has a little dollar sign with a number on the back of all of them so people can have an idea of what they think it’s worth.”
One of the challenges that Lora and some other families faced was teaching their children about a life-threatening illness such as cancer at such a young age. Speaking to her children, Lora made sure to explain how treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery work, as well as their effects on people, such as hair loss and an expanded immune system.
“I never thought I’d be having this conversation so young,” Lora said. “But I believe in always telling the truth to children.”
In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, Carrion says she has already had many conversations with her children about illness. So cancer just became another disease to explain.
“I think it was just this different way we had to approach what it means to be healthy, and how sometimes our bodies aren’t,” Carrion said.
“And all the doctors and hospitals out there to help people get better. So I think we approached it from that lens.”
At a time when children may be overwhelmed by all the problems resulting from the pandemic, both locally and across the country, Lora believes this event offers them a simple way to effect positive change.
“It’s just a fun way of saying that our kids can do so many things,” Lora said. “And let’s create space for them to do that. And to listen. And to use their skills to help others and help each other.”