Public Health & Recreation

Drawing Course Helps Students Connect With Nature


Some of the artwork by students in The Empowerment Factory’s Nature Drawing and Trash to Treasures programs, hanging in Pawtucket City Hall. (Emily Olson/ecoRI News)

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Spring has arrived early in this Providence County city.

On the second floor of City Hall, right outside Mayor Donald Grebien’s office, more than 70 pieces of student artwork are on display. Thanks to the hard work of students who recently took part in The Empowerment Factory’s Nature Drawing and Trash to Treasures programs, vibrant flowers made from tin cans and colorful nature scenes adorn the halls.

The children’s art show was funded through a Pawtucket Arts Panel grant, with support from the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Art and Culture, which established the City Hall Art Gallery in 2015.

“Having this exhibit in City Hall means a great deal to Pawtucket,” Grebien said. “The city has had a strong partnership with Gail [Ahlers] and the rest of the team at The Empowerment Factory for many years now, so when she approached us about this exhibit, we were thrilled.

“The Empowerment Factory has such a positive impact on our youth. Children leave these programs feeling like they can make a real difference in the world.”

Helping children understand the real impact they can have on their community and the world is part of The Empowerment Factory’s mission to help children lead happier, healthier, more empowered lives. Since 2014, the organization has designed and delivered enrichment programs to kids in Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Providence, impacting more than 6,000 underserved children and their families.

Gail Ahlers, The Empowerment Factory founder, said, “My goal is to connect kids to creativity and to each other, and in the process, help them see the world in a different way. Kids can have an impact. They can have a kinder world. A more beautiful world. They can make choices every day that make a difference.”

The Empowerment Factory’s online drawing course helps teach students about the natural world. (Emily Olson/ecoRI News)

The Empowerment Factory’s Nature Drawing Program is an online course that teaches children how to draw animals, then raises their awareness of the protections those animals need and gives them the tools to help.

“I think when students build empathy for animals, they can build empathy for others,” Ahlers said. “Showing care is a practice.”

The STEAM-based Trash to Treasures Program, which was held at Henry J. Winters Elementary School, with support from educator Neil Letendre, harnesses kids’ civic pride and creativity, and combines it with a little environmental education, encouraging kids to make art using materials headed for the landfill.

Ahlers said of the in-person Trash to Treasures Program, “It’s wonderful to be with young people and give them the opportunity to explore and work collaboratively. Children who have been through the pandemic have motor skills that are not as developed as those of other kids, so giving them the opportunity to explore with a tool is a beautiful thing. Letting them try something they’ve never done before is the great thing about a hands-on class. Cutting metal into the shape of a flower or cutting pieces of paper for collage was freeform, creative and collaborative. And those are skills people need in life.”

Ahlers views the gallery showing as a perfect opportunity to highlight young people’s art work, and recalls with fondness the opening that took place in January.

“I’m trying to do something very specific: engage a child’s family,” she said. “At the art opening, kids were so proud to share their work.”

Grebien said, “The gallery has featured thousands of different pieces of art, so many of which are from The Empowerment Factory. We appreciate the meaning behind this work, and it has certainly brightened up our hallways.”

Ahlers has a larger goal: brightening up the whole world. “I teach kids to care about their environment, to be a friend to themselves and to be a friend to the earth,” she said.

The Empowerment Factory relies on collaborating partners to bring no-cost programming to children. To volunteer or donate, visit To sign up for spring programs, visit The student art show will be on display through March 31 during Pawtucket City Hall hours. Entrance is free. Original pieces by Gail Ahlers will be available for sale with 50% of the proceeds going to fund programs for Rhode Island’s underserved youth.

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  1. TEF’sSpring session Nature Drawing starts next week. Our primary focus is RI Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Vernal Pool animals on Monday. Ponds & Rivers animals on Tuesday. NEW! Salt Marsh animals on Wednesday, and Endangered Species from around the world on Thursdays. We discuss the challenges man poses to the survival of these species, such as habitat loss and water pollution, and the students use their artwork to learn, educate and advocate for conservation. Contact TEF to learn more about these programs.

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