Late last year, four Foothill High freshmen realized they wanted to help younger students express themselves through writing and drawing.
"We decided we needed more artistic representation in our community so decided to start a nonprofit to engage others," said Annika Gangopadhyay.
She and three of her longtime friends -- Arya Krishna, Samyukta Chittoor and Sandra Srinivasan -- began the Pens and Paints Foundation to help them achieve their goals.
"We started in December of 2019 and spent the rest of January and up to March planning and contacting local venues. We had to put a lot of thought into our initial stages," Gangopadhyay explained. "We are dedicated to providing art opportunities for local youth. These include contests, workshops and exhibitions that involve talents from both visual arts and writing disciplines."
Since the pandemic hit, their mission has expanded to help younger students express themselves about their new way of life.
"We transformed our plans to give students a time to reflect on their environments and help their voices be heard," Gangopadhyay said.
Recently they released a digital anthology by elementary and middle school students in Pleasanton, titled "Eunoia: Beautiful Thinking." It showcases artwork and poems, with some noted as winning entries.
"The word 'eunoia' originated from ancient Greece. It essentially means 'beautiful thinking,'" Gangopadhyay said. "We wanted to help the community take a moment to think about the beauty of life to combat our new circumstances."
The four also worked on origami projects with students at Donlon Elementary School, where they attended, and have been giving weekly art and writing workshops as part of the summer offerings by the local after-school program, Safari Kids.
"We attended Safari Kids when we were in middle school," Gangopadhyay said. "We always kept in touch with them because they made such a profound impact on our lives."
The summer program is conducted online using Zoom and Webex, and they give prompts to help the younger students express themselves by writing short stories and memoirs.
"Every single week the four of us go on these online platforms and have one-on-one conversations with these kids: How is their day going? How do they think about this unique situation?" Gangopadhyay said. "We give students time to share what they think about the current situation."
"All four of us think it is extremely important for them to be heard during these times when no one seems to be in control," she added. "We give them a creative outlet."
They also work on technique, she said, and keep it all friendly. This summer, they have been teaching the foundations of art and writing, including illustration, crafts, poetry and short stories.
"We are continuing these lessons until the fall," Gangopadhyay said, "and we've also opened an online journal, 'The Summer Journal,' for kids aged 13 and under to submit visual art and writing pieces they've been working on this summer."
Writing can be submitted through pensandpaints.wixsite.com/pensandpaints. The anthology "Eunoia" can be viewed on this site, too.
Pens and Paints also joined with the Interact Club at Foothill High to create thank-you cards to send to essential workers, and more can still be submitted via the website.
The foundation provides art tips and inspirational pieces on Instagram, @pens.and.paints.foundation, and its Facebook page, Gangopadhyay said.
"We hope we can continue to share our passion for the arts with our community," she noted. "We understand that times like these require collaboration and unity, and we strive to help our youth think creatively, no matter what skill level they start from."