Wearing a bright purple shirt and white shorts, a young boy named Oscar amuses himself by gleefully kicking around a soda can in one of a series of photographic montages for sale at an Ellicott City gallery.
Like a thousand children before him over nearly four decades, he lives on one of four Episcopal-run campuses that together serve as an educational and emotional oasis in Honduras, a poverty-wracked Central American country with one of the highest murder rates in the world.
Katherine Dilworth, a Woodbine artist and parishioner at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, in Glenwood, shot the photos during one of the church's annual week-long mission trips to the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
Those images became the basis for Quilts for El Hogar, a set of six quilt squares made of stitched paper that she created to raise money for El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza, which is Spanish for "The Home of Love and Hope."
Though most of the 250 kids who come to live and learn at El Hogar are left there by parents who can't afford to give them a decent life, sunny dispositions are the norm for the students.
"The resilience of the children is fairly stunning," observed Dilworth. "There's such a joyfulness about them."
The children are grateful to escape a life on the streets — where they would have been lured into drug-running gangs or prostitution, or forced to beg and steal — and to be given a warm bed, meals and an education, all with the aim of breaking the cycle of extreme poverty in Honduras.
"We in the United States can't really fathom the level of desperation and threat that these kids feel," Dilworth said. "When they come to El Hogar, they get affection and stability and they learn a trade. They are at a high point in their lives."
Dilworth decided to translate her mission experience into artwork to benefit the elementary school after spending a week there in 2014 with her older son, Toby, who is now a senior at Glenelg High School.
Collectively known as the El Hogar Projects, the organization is also comprised of a technical institute in Amarateca Valley, an agricultural school and farm in Talanga and a girls' campus in Santa Lucia.
The artist pieced together archival prints of the photos from her trip to create six 12-by-12-inch quilt squares, using slices of photos of landscapes to build a textural patchwork around a central image.
"We were asked to not bring our cameras because they would create a distance between us and the kids, so I left my Canon 7D behind and used my cellphone," Dilworth said, noting she took some of her 300-plus photos from the window of a van.
Stitched on a sewing machine, each vibrantly colored square stands alone and is printed on Japanese washi paper, which contains visible threads.
The quilt squares are for sale, either on the artist's website, from where 100 percent of the proceeds benefits El Hogar, or at Perspectives Art Gallery on Main Street in Ellicott City, from where 75 percent of the proceeds will be donated.
Using art to explore how the latent creativity of abandoned children can be re-ignited is appealing to the Rev. Matt Engleby, El Hogar's executive director in Honduras.
"Children as young as 5 have been living in Honduras in a survival mindset," Engleby said. "They've been selling penny candy at bus stops, where they breathe in diesel fumes all day, or [peddling] tortillas, and that desperate way of life has pushed aside any sense of hope or creativity.
"What's wonderful about Katherine's art is that it uses creative expression to reflect how creativity and inspiration that's been diminished can be reborn," said Engleby, a Peace Corps alumnus and former pastor and chaplain. "The kids re-emerge after they've been with us for a while, and this exhibit reflects that very well."
Lauren Erickson-Caquelin, manager of Perspectives, said she was attracted to Dilworth's different take on photography, which usually doesn't sell well.
"Her overall body of work spoke to me," said Erickson-Caquelin, adding that 25 other pieces of Dilworth's artwork are for sale through May 1 at the gallery, where 10 percent of all artists' proceeds are donated to the artist's charity of choice. "Her layering of texture and use of stitching are very unique."
Lynne Quinn, a former youth director at St. Andrew's who has accompanied high school students to El Hogar seven times, knows Dilworth and attended her exhibit's opening on March 4.
"As a child in Honduras your chances aren't great," said Quinn, who is a parishioner at the church, which also sends volunteers to Kentucky and Baltimore. "The students at El Hogar get a stable, loving atmosphere and training that can lead to a productive life."
Her 21-year-old daughter, Anna, has been to Honduras five times and is pursuing a global studies major and religion minor in college as a result of her experiences at El Hogar.
"This happens to a lot of kids who go," Quinn said. "You can see it on TV or read about it, but when you're there to see it with your own eyes it motivates you to do something."
Denise Sharp, co-owner of Sharp's at Waterford Farm, in Glenelg, and a St. Andrew's member, has assisted at the agricultural school each summer since 2010, often traveling with the Episcopal Archdiocese of Baltimore.
"The kids on the farm are wonderful, and they're very grateful for any new knowledge," she said of lending her farming expertise to their training.
"It's exciting to see how our projects develop from year to year," she added. "You feel a connection to these kids; they're like your extended family."
Dilworth is gratified to know that her art is helping to raise awareness of the plight of Honduran youths.
"You have to presume these kids had experienced real trauma in their lives," Dilworth said. "El Hogar is a complete game-changer for their entire future."
Latest Howard County
For more information on the quilt squares for sale, go to kddphotography.com or visit Perspectives Art Gallery, 8191 Main St. For information on El Hogar, go to elhogar.org