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Jeremy Williams, 16, a student at the Area Learning Center, works Thursday on a panel of the mural which is in Monica Villars's classroom. The mural has been worked on by several ALC students throughout the school year and is being painted for display at the Women's Shelter. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Willmar ALC students paint mural for Shelter House

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WILLMAR -- A tree straight out of an enchanted forest, a tranquil pond and butterflies will greet residents at the women's shelter in Willmar later this year.

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Students in the service learning class at Willmar's Area Learning Center are nearly finished with a four-panel mural that will be placed in a hallway at the Shelter House Inc. shelter.

The students will also be delivering journals they have designed for adults and children at the shelter.

The colorful mural has been designed by a number of students, "with guidance," said Monica Villars, who teaches the service learning class and is also the ALC's art teacher. The mural uses acrylic paints on four sheets of pressed board.

Some of the images are ideas from children's books, and others were drawn freehand by students, she said.

Villars helped the students combine their ideas into a cohesive mural. She showed them techniques, and they did the painting.

"The other thing I tried with the kids was to make it culturally diverse and upbeat, positive," Villars said. A row of people stands next to a blue pond surrounded by cattails.

One student has been working on the twisted roots and branches of the enchanted tree, his own design, since school started last fall.

Other students worked on triangular block prints to form the border of the mural. The prints squeezed words into the triangles -- faith, joy, play, love, peace, hope, laugh, strength and bravery.

Some work remains on the mural, including finishing the design in the center and adding features to the people. Villars said she plans to have it done by the end of the school year.

While it's a project of the service learning class, Villars said some of her art students have gotten involved, too.

Jeremy Williams, 16, a junior from Willmar, helped fill in the black paint in some of the border the other day. He likes how the mural turned out, he said. "You can lose yourself in this painting; it's so big."

His grandmother is an artist, and he's painted for a long time, Williams said, but he's never painted something that would be seen in public.

"At first, I wasn't too good," he said, but he's feeling more comfortable with his painting now.

"The more you practice, the better you get," Villars told him.

The journals for Shelter House residents will have covers designed by students. In the children's journals, there will be pages about birthdays and other subjects that kids can write or draw on.

The adult journals will include pages with information about domestic violence and others that are blank, except for the encouraging quotations printed on the bottom. The students did the research to find the quotations, Villars said.

Villars said she plans to have an educator from Shelter House visit to talk with her students about domestic violence and the reasons people come to the women's shelter.

The service learning class received a grant from the United Way Youth as Resources program to pay for paint and materials.

The class has also painted Japanese koi fish with acrylic paint on masonite panels. They will be mounted on the climbing wall at Kennedy Elementary School, as part of an overall aquarium theme. Kennedy Elementary paid for the materials for the panels, and Home Depot also donated materials.

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