Chelsea Phaire is a 14-year-old freshman in high school. As a dedicated athlete, she’s been working on her skills to prepare for figure skating competitions, but her true passion lies with art. Her heart is set on a career in animation, and she’s not wasting any time.
“I actually have been working on something I want to turn into a webtoon. It’s a story I’ve been developing for the past two years,” she explains.
Art has always been an important part of Chelsea’s life and one she enjoys sharing with others. For her 10th birthday, she asked her friends to bring art supplies to her party instead of gifts. Two days later, she and her family donated them to a local shelter. And just like that, Chelsea’s Charity was born.
Since then, Chelsea has helped make and distribute nearly 35,000 art kits to kids in foster homes, shelters and hospitals and to veterans who have gone through traumatic experiences.
“It’s so fulfilling to see the kits reaching so many people. We almost have all 50 states. I believe we’re only missing Alaska and Hawaii. We’re extending our reach to other countries, too,” she smiles.
With recent news coverage and word-of-mouth, there has been no shortage of people wanting to help. Volunteers put kits together according to who will be receiving them. For veterans, there are adult coloring books and Sharpies. Kids are gifted with ink pens, colored pencils, markers, crayons, glitter paints, etc. and sometimes a toy, like Playdough. Each kit includes a handwritten note for a finishing touch.
Lisa Jones, a family friend, brings her experience running her own nonprofit to Chelsea’s Charity as an active board member. She and her son, a friend of Chelsea’s brother, were also at the birthday party that started it all.
“My father was a photographer. My sister-in-law is an artist. I know how, whether it’s through pen and paper, paint or any other medium, art allows a person to move through emotions and either feel what they want to feel or not feel. They use different mediums to express themselves,” she says.
In 2019, Chelsea and her family travelled to El Paso after a mass shooting at a local Walmart.
“A lot of kids in the elementary school were affected. We went down to give them art supplies and make sure they were okay,” she recalls. “I made a friend. She was at a really low moment, but she still draws to help her calm down.”
Other than being her passion, art is a positive coping mechanism with healing power for Chelsea. One way that has taken shape in her own life is in a figure she has been drawing for a long time, one that she calls her “comfort character.”
“Her name is Taraji. I just love drawing her and making her have little fun stories,” she says. “Art is also a way to escape and feel free from like the troubles of the world and let everything out on paper.”
Not long after the inception of the organization, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and sent everyone into isolation. It was a perilous time that affected everyone.
“A lot of people didn’t have the best coping mechanisms,” she emphasizes. “That’s why we really wanted to make sure that art was available to people.”
Early on, Chelsea would travel across the state to talk to kits recipients about the power of art. Now, after explosive growth, she creates videos to share her message and works with businesses and other organizations who hold their own packing parties. One hour-long virtual packing party she hosted with 100 volunteers around the country resulted in 5,000 kits to hand out in their own communities.
“She’s a wonderful young human who I think is very inspiring, very caring and has what not everybody has, a ton of empathy. And she can use her platform to reach so many people,” Lisa emphasizes.
Chelsea speaks to schools and community groups about getting involved with helping others. She even guides school-aged kids in using their art supplies to make greeting or get-well cards for people in the hospital or residents of rehabilitation centers.
“When we work with little kids, they’re so happy. I’ve had some people come back or message me,” she states. “People are so appreciative. That’s the most rewarding part, the reactions and knowing that we’re actually changing things.”
Along with practical skills that come with running an organization, Chelsea has improved her public speaking. Whether she’s on a Zoom call with a hundred people, speaking at an assembly in front of an entire school or doing a press interview, she’s managed to tame the butterflies.
“I’ve learned to tone it down a little bit so people can understand what I’m saying, because when I get excited, I also talk fast,” she reflects.
So, what next for this dedicated volunteer?
“There are a lot of things I want to do with Chelsea’s Charity, but right now we’re focusing on children, especially in schools, because art is the first thing that gets cut with budget cuts.”
She’s always working on ideas to bring to the board to discuss how to raise funds and put them into action. One such idea is to create the art equivalent of a yard library box where people can take an art kit and leave an art kit. She’s already established three but wants to see at least one in every state. An art therapist is also on the list, an addition that would allow her to bring in professional help along with art kits for recipients dealing with especially difficult things or who need better coping skills.
“At such a young age, she is so insightful in realizing how art helps her and how it can help others. I think she is a superstar, but I’m partial,” Lisa reiterates.
Chelsea underscores that age and contribution is irrelevant when it comes to making an impact. Her friend, she notes, is an avid home cook who makes gourmet sweets for people experiencing homelessness or food insecurity. There’s room for your passions and interests. She also reminds people to be patient.
“Things really do take time. At first, the charity was really small, and in the second year, it started picking up speed. As time went on, we started getting more kit requests, and it just kept growing. Never give up,” she stresses.
Chelsea’s tenacity and dedication to helping others through difficult times has made an impression around the world. Art gives her purpose in more ways than one, and the result of her work is a brighter day for those around her. And a more beautiful space. As for the future, Lisa has a prediction.
“I think that she will be a beacon of light in a world that doesn’t always focus on good.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Chelsea? Find local volunteer opportunities.