Fifteen-year-old Owen Whaley was thinking about schools' needs months before thousands of North Carolina teachers marched through the streets of Raleigh in May to push for more funding for public schools. Whaley, a rising junior at Green Hope High School in Cary, is taking a proactive approach to ease schools' financial burden for a subject that's special to him.
Q: You formed Young People in the Arts Foundation in February, launching a GoFundMe page to buy art supplies for under-funded schools. What made you decide to do this?
A: I realized whenever there were budget cuts, the art classes were the first thing to get cut. I also noticed not much was being done about it. There are organizations that do this kind of stuff, too, but not a lot of them were specific to art. It inspired me to direct my resources now that I’m older toward giving back to the art classrooms and others like it. I’ve always done art classes; I’m a very artistic person.
Q: How did you become aware of the need?
A: You see it in the news a lot — in Durham and Raleigh. There are terrible circumstances that a lot of students are placed through.
Q: Many people recognize a problem but don't do anything to fix it. What inspired you to take the extra step, especially since your school isn't in desperate need of art supplies?
A: I have a brother who’s autistic who I help a lot and my nanny (grandmother) is an amputee and she has Alzheimer’s. I’ve always been interested in helping those who need help, who can’t help themselves.
Q: How much money have you raised so far?
A: On the GoFundMe, we’re at around $250 of the $1,000 goal. Plus, I raised about $100 one weekend in March selling raffle tickets for a big candy basket. I’ve had to take some time off for my studies — for my final exams — but I’m starting to kick back into it.
Q: Why is art so important to you, and what has it meant for your education?
A: It’s definitely a stress reliever to have a class where you can have fun and explore your interests, and it’s a great outlet for students to express themselves in the classroom.
Q: How do your express yourself through art?
A: I’m mainly interested in cell animation and computer animation. I also love art classes. I’m in one right now until the end of the semester, Visual Arts 1. We use all sorts of materials — pencils, clay, anything you can think of.
Q: Have you bought supplies yet with the money you’ve raised?
A: Not yet. I plan on going shopping for art supplies before the next school year. I want to wait until we have enough money to do a big shop.
Q: How will you find teachers and students who need supplies?
A: I’m going to go straight for teachers online throughout the community. In my Twitter profile, it already asks teachers to send a message (if they need help). I was actually talking to my biology teacher about it, too.
Q: What do your parents think about your efforts?
A: They were surprised. The first time they found out about it was when I told them (a news crew) was coming over for a TV interview (earlier this year). They like the cause, and I have four brothers who have been great. It’s pretty great to have a supportive family.
Q: As a rising junior, any thoughts about what you want to do when you get older?
A: My favorite subject in school is a tie between social studies classes and art classes. My other interest is law — politics — and I plan on going to school for political science or something like that.
Q: Are there other causes you might support under the Young People in the Arts Foundation?
A: Over the past few months or so, I’ve thought of all of the teachers going through these struggles. So I’d like to help teachers in other areas, too, because they’re also spending money on supplies. I hope that other people can join them in fighting for more funding to put more supplies in the hands of students in classrooms.
Owen Whaley — Tar Heel of the Week
Born: July 13, 2002, in Shoreham, N.Y.
School: Green Hope High School
Fun fact: He has four brothers and is a twin.
Organization: Young People in the Arts Foundation