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A couple of years ago, Jenifer Patterson wanted a recreation activity for her children. The kids, aged 10 and 13, weren't that interested in sports. So, she looked for an activity with art since both of them were inclined that way.

She found slim pickings.

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"When I looked around Carroll County for something involving art, out of 192 programs for kids, only two involved art. One was a summer program and the other was just art lessons. There were not many choices," the Westminster resident said.

Although acknowledging she is not "particularly artsy" herself, Patterson decided to start a kids' art program on her own. In the summer of 2015, she went to the West Carroll Recreation Council with an unusual suggestion.

How about starting a competitive art league?

The council liked the idea, and the first session of the new Carroll Youth Competitive Art League began in fall of 2015.

In the year and a half since then, it has been very successful. Well over a hundred kids have gone through the program. Recognizing that success, the West Carroll Rec Council named Patterson its 2016 Volunteer of the Year last fall.

Recreation Council President Heather McKenzie says there are always a number of deserving volunteers to consider for her rec council's volunteer award each year. However, Patterson's unique contribution gave her top billing this time.

McKenzie said the art league addresses a major need in the county and added, "this was an alternative type of activity that provided self-esteem for children who otherwise wouldn't participate."

Some figures back that statement up. Patterson explained that, of the 115 children who have participated to date, 65 had never been involved in a Carroll County rec program.

However, Patterson wants her program to provide more than simply momentary amusement.

"I want the kids to learn something by expanding their artistic knowledge and working with new mediums. The schools have only limited opportunities," she said. "I also want them to learn how to work together. They have to work in groups, and this helps them learn social skills. A kid sitting in the bedroom doing art doesn't make friends. Our program helps broaden their horizons."

The CYCAL, for children ages 10-16, combines the solitary pastime of art work with the competitiveness of sports. The participants are divided into three age brackets during the eight-week fall and spring sessions. Each week, the youngsters are instructed in a different art medium during a two-hour weeknight session.

Then each completes a practice project.

The art mediums they study include pen and ink, watercolors, acrylics, colored pencil, charcoal, comics with micron pens, chalk and oil pastels.

Then on that Saturday, there is a competition in that medium, and the youngsters do projects that are judged. Those creating the three projects judged the best in their age group win prizes. They also gain points. At the end of the eight-week session, the high point achiever in each age bracket wins a prize consisting of art supplies.

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Patterson says that each prize package can run roughly $200.

The "league" aspect is still a work in progress right now. The problem is finding other programs to compete against. Patterson's group has competed against Freedom's youth art program several times and hopes Howard County will join.

Patterson's husband Carlos Felica works with her to operate the CYCAL. Carlos, who is of Native American descent, is proficient in Native American art forms, and he teaches a class in which the students produce replica rawhide family shields.

Patterson handles the program's legion administrative details. She has recruited some two dozen guest art teachers and judges who work with the children. Many of the volunteers are art teachers themselves or own art-related businesses.

She also handles the purchase of the art supplies. The $40 per student cost doesn't meet the full cost of the program, so Patterson has also become proficient in writing grant applications and other forms of fundraising.

Through her efforts, she has received contributions from the Carroll County Arts Council, Taneytown Lions Club, and some other local businesses.

Besides running the art league program, Patterson has begun helping the Rec Council in other ways.

McKenzie writes, "not only does Jenifer contribute to the Council through program support, but her 'can-do' volunteer attitude is also greatly appreciated.

"Whether volunteering her time at the funnel cake stand, to coordinating volunteers to staff other program registrations, Jenifer never hesitates to offer a helping hand. In fact, she was recently nominated to the Council's secretary position — a testament to her organization and dedication to the success of the entire organization."

Patterson says that being the secretary is beneficial in that it allows her to be in on the decision making that affects her program.

Despite her heavy involvement in council matters, Patterson said she wasn't aware she had been selected as Volunteer of the Year at first.

"I was invited to go to the [awards ceremony in October], and I thought it was just to recognize the West Carroll Recreation Council. Then a few days before, Heather told me that I'd been chosen. I was very surprised," Patterson said.

She writes of what it was like before her art league program began.

"A safe and fun atmosphere where kids can come together, learn art techniques and share their ideas about art was missing in our community. The additional opportunity for them to learn the valuable life skills of time management, competition and group problem solving in a setting outside of sports was hard to find."

Thanks to Patterson, the community has found it. And she has been duly recognized for its creation.

For more information about the program, contact carrollartleague@gmail.com or visit wcrc.org. The next program session runs from March 15 to May 20.

410-857-7896

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