Impactful Art: Changing kids’ lives one Christmas ornament at a time

For the nearly 30 students in Megan Buecking’s 6th grade art class, creating ceramic Christmas ornaments is about much more than celebrating the holiday. Their artwork eventually enables disabled kids in Mexico to regain their mobility.

Buecking’s sixth graders will collaborate with Bozeman-based non-profit ROC (Reach Out And Care) Wheels to bring wheelchairs to kids in need. They’ll be selling their ornaments during the Big
Sky Christmas Stroll at East Slope Outdoors and Ari O
from 5:30–7:30 p.m.

For $5 Christmas strollers have their pick of a variety of colorful ornaments, from Montana shapes to bears, moose, candy canes and other holiday-themed creations. More than 250 were crafted by the students in the past few weeks. People can generously donate a little extra to the cause if they’d like. At East Slope, stroll attendees can also paint their own tree-dangling art.

The students’ goal is to raise $1,200 to purchase three wheelchairs—but it’s much more hands-on than that. The chairs are built by volunteer engineers who actually bring the materials for the chairs to Ophir Middle School (OMS) where the students then assemble them in class.

“It’s a really cool aspect of the project,” Buecking said as she sifted through a pile of freshly made ornaments. “You wouldn’t usually expect the kids to be building the wheelchairs.”

The project, now in its third year at OMS, began several weeks ago with the students learning about the ROC Wheels mission to provide adaptive wheelchairs to severely disabled children around the globe. They discussed the statistics about the large number of children in impoverished countries who need wheelchairs but do not have access to them.

“It’s a shocking number,” Buecking said. According to ROC Wheels, the program as a whole has passed along 10,000 wheelchairs since 1999, but more than 6.5 million kids are still in need. “The class is emotionally affected at the beginning of the project and again at the end,” added Buecking. “When they see the kids on the ground they are shocked. But that empowers them to help, which makes them really happy as well.”

The class was putting the finishing touches on their designs this week, creating as many ornaments as possible before the Stroll on Friday, Dec. 8. It won’t be the most difficult art project they’ll do, but it may be the most significant.

“Art-wise it’s an easy project but it’s not about what they’re making. It’s really about the outcome and the concept of being able to make a change in someone’s life with art,” Buecking said. “Kids are excited about it and have fun doing it. They get a lot of pride and satisfaction knowing they’ve helped people.”

The goal is to have the funds raised and sent to ROC Wheels by January. ROC Wheels will then come to the school for the wheelchair build, ultimately traveling across the globe to personally distribute the chairs to the youths in need. While there, ROC videos the chair distribution, sending the video back to the students who made them.

“It’s a great way for the class to see what they’ve accomplished,” said Buecking. “I tear up every time I see the videos. There are kids crawling around and being carried. And we help them get back up. It’s intense and impactful.”

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