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Teen's art gets her through hard days

August 12, 2003|Shane Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Wendie expresses herself through art. She showed her affection for her stepgrandmother, who had cared for her since she was 6 days old, in a simple charcoal drawing of feet -- a child's between her mother's.

Art gives Wendie solace when she's troubled. Art is the 14-year-old's future.

After her widowed stepgrandmother died suddenly in March, Wendie had to pack up her drawings, brushes, paints and other belongings and move in with a family friend because there was no relative who could take her in. Authorities had removed Wendie from the custody of her birth mother because of her mother's drug abuse. She's never known her dad.

The family she lives with now hopes to become Wendie's legal guardian so she'll have a secure home until it's time for college.

After her stepgrandmother died, Wendie's teachers took up a collection to pay for the funeral. They raised enough funds to purchase Metrolink passes and art supplies that Wendie will need during her four years at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where she will be a student this fall.

"She came from a school where my mother teaches, and all the teachers are fighting over who is going to adopt her because they all love her so much," said Wendy Shram, camp director at the YMCA of Greater Whittier.

When Wendie went to camp in June, the teen's maturity made such an impression on the Y's staff, they invited her back for two weeks of counselor training. They even asked her to create the organization's annual remembrance for the commemor-

ative wall.

At home, she is painting a panoramic mountain view on three plaques -- one for each Y camp session -- in the rich oranges, reds and yellows of a sunset she photographed that first week. At the end of this month, Wendie will return to hang the paintings side by side in the camp's dining hall.

"Even though her situation is sad -- it really is a tragedy -- we really feel blessed to have her fall into our hands," Shram said. "She is going to benefit us, probably more than we are benefiting her."

Wendie has been drawing and painting since she was 8, when her stepgrandmother enrolled her in the art-intensive school from which she just graduated.

"It's a really cool outlet for me," Wendie said. "If you've had a bad day, you can just go to your room, turn on some music and draw. It kind of relaxes you to concentrate and focus on drawing something.

"It takes your mind off things."

About 11,000 children will go to camp this summer, thanks to the $1.4 million raised last year.

The annual fund-raising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar. Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make credit card donations, visit /summercamp. To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash. Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $25 or more are acknowledged in The Times.

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