Portraits with Purpose

Honoring health care workers and evoking connection and empathy with artists disconnected from the fight against COVID-19

- Kathleen O'Donnell

Background Information

Kathleen O’Donnell attended the Alzar School in Spring 2020, just as the COVID-19 outbreak began. This was/is an extreme stresser on everyone, especially our health care workers. Kathleen, also an artist, saw the opportunity to use her love for painting to express her gratitude to their hard work. Kathleen had made portraits for friends before, and saw how meaningful for her friends and herself. Furthermore, she saw how this process could impact artists and health care workers in the present. Kathleen dreamed up Portraits with Purpose primarily to honor and love health care workers, but also to evoke connection and empathy with artists that may have felt helpless disconnected from the fight against COVID-19.

Implementation of Project

Kathleen began Portraits with Purpose by pitching her idea to the volunteer department at a local hospital, Houston Methodist.  Through email and video meetings, Kathleen and a team of employees set up a system for artists to create portraits of varying health care workers.  A digital sign up sheet was created with information like the employee’s name, a picture of them, and their job title. These employees work in a variety of departments such as music therapy, EVS, and Patient Liaisons. Kathleen found challenges in recruiting volunteers, but luckily through the help of her contacts at the hospital and friends she was able to get many artists to volunteer.


Results of Project

As of December 2020, 24 volunteers painted portraits of health care workers at Houston Methodist Hospital. These volunteers consisted of friends of Kathleen and contacts from the hospital.  Also, a class of elementary school students participated.  In total, roughly 60 hours were spent making paintings.  Kathleen has not been able to meet any portrait recipients due to the pandemic, but hears how much they are loving them.

What’s Next

Kathleen will graduate from Memorial High School in the Spring of 2021 and plans on attending college the following Fall.  She hopes to study visual arts and continue putting her leadership skills to use. She plans to continue painting portraits and thinks Portraits with Purpose will continue in 2021.