Like many teenagers living through these unprecedented times, 17-year old Cara Kwon from Puyallup faces many challenges, from remote learning to not being able to see friends outside of the virtual world. But this past year, the hardest part of the quarantine for Kwon was losing her grandfather.

“He passed away in April from Alzheimers. He was 86 years old,” said Kwon, a junior at Emerald Ridge High School. “He lived in Virginia and because of COVID-19, we couldn’t travel to see him. The only way to stay in touch was by calling him and the only person who was there at the hospital when he passed away was our uncle.”

Her uncle took a picture of his hand holding the hand of Kwon’s grandfather and that photograph was the inspiration for Kwon to create her acrylic painting that she entered as part of the “Tales of Quarantine” contest. It’s a nationwide initiative challenging students ages 6-18 to showcase through art how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their lives. The competition was organized by “Mission InspirED”, a Seattle-based education nonprofit run by high school students. Richard Yang, a senior at Newport High in Bellevue, is part of the nonprofit and also one of the judges for “Tales of Quarantine”.

“We wanted to create an outlet for students during these challenging times. A place for them to have this collective experience where they can create and share what they are going through,” said Yang. “The feedback has been amazing. We received nearly 200 submissions from across the country, and from even as far as India and Hong Kong.”

The competition which ended April 1 had three categories: Media, visual and writing. Students could submit multiple entries in different categories which are broken up into the Junior Division (ages 6-13 years old) and the Senior Division (ages 14 -18) One winner is selected from each category in each age group, with the prize of $100 each. Judges will then select an overall grand prize winner who will get a total of $1000.

“I see a lot of students working on their artwork together with their friends. One could be singing and the other playing their guitar. It’s really cool,” said Young. “I feel this is a way for them to share their feelings, and they could see that other kids are going through the same thing”.

Another student who entered the competition is Miya Youngman of Boise, Idaho. The 14-year old middle schooler said she found out about her contest through her cousin who saw it online. Miya, who just got back to her regular classroom last month after more than a year of remote learning, said art gave her a chance to express the sadness and loneliness she felt during her quarantine. Her submitted artwork shows a painting of her cat, Jasper, in the foreground, with tears rolling down its face and a broken heart. Behind the cat, Miya wrote about how she was feeling during the time the world went into lockdown.

“When I felt sad, I would go outside and pet Jasper and it would make me feel better,” said Miya. “During COVID, I was really lonely, and I felt isolated. Doing this work and seeing what others are also doing to deal with it, made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”

For Miya’s mother, Lara Youngman, she said her daughter’s work actually helped her understand what her daughter was going through.

“It’s been a tough year and this pandemic affects people of all ages,” said Youngman. “Looking at Miya’s painting, it gave me a glimpse of her heart and where it was. It was more of an awakening of who she is and what she’s gone through. Her heart did break and it was harder on her than we realize. Anytime we can verbalize or share something through art, it’s healing.”

For Cara Kwon, she said the experience of creating her artwork has also been healing and it also gave her a sense of closure, after her grandfather’s death.

“Seeing that photo of my uncle holding my dying grandfather’s hand just broke me because I couldn’t be with him. I haven’t experienced loss like that before so it’s really hard,” said Kwon. “I decided to do this contest and create this work because I didn’t want to be stuck in this pain and sadness anymore. In a way, my painting is a way I can honor my grandfather. I have also learned through this process to deal with the unexpected in life and to keep in closer touch with my grandmother, who’s now without her husband. I hope I will get to see her very soon.”

For more information on the Tales of Quarantine contest, go to https://www.missioninspired.org/toq. You can also check out all the winners and their artwork which were announced earlier this month.      

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