Bright halls: Volunteers ‘Paint for Kids’ at Carpenter and Mitchell

Gene Firn
Gene Firn, a volunteer painting contractor, works alongside community volunteers at Mitchell Elementary School on Dec. 28

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

Two local painting contractors volunteered their time to the Ann Arbor Public Schools and pulled together community members to paint hallways at Mitchell and Carpenter elementary schools over the December school break.

Both schools participated in the first  “Paint for Kids” days, put together by painting contractors Gene Firn and Bill Champion. Firn supervised volunteers at Mitchell Elementary and Champion did the same at Carpenter.

In a pilot effort that they hope will develop into a volunteer program in other Ann Arbor schools, the two coordinated painting at both Mitchell and Carpenter elementary schools on Dec. 28-29, working on the school’s entry hallways and beyond.

Volunteer painters at Mitchell
Parents John and Sarah McCallum cut in upper walls at Mitchell Elementary School on Dec. 28, where they were taking part in "Paint for Kids."

At Mitchell on Tuesday, a volunteer crew of about 10 was moving along quickly on their allotted projec – prepping and painting the main entry hall, and another along a wing of classrooms.

Bethany Villarreal was busy rolling. The 2006 Huron High School graduate and neighborhood resident said she came by to help after getting a link on her Facebook feed. “I heard about it and came over,” she said.

Parents John and Sarah McCallum came as a team, with Sarah saying she had long thought the school needed sprucing up. They bought and donated pizza for the team. “When I saw this project, I thought ‘put your money where your mouth is’,” said the PTO co-vice president. “It will be fresh when the kids come back.”

Mitchell PTO President Nancy Neff said the project was “long overdue. I wish we had the opportunity to do this a couple of years ago. This is a good start.”

Mitchell Principal Kathy Scarnecchia said she was pleased with the effort. “People have called their friends and said ‘get out here’,” she said. “There’s a lot of energy. It’s wonderful. I love the teamwork.”

A similar-sized crew could be found at Carpenter, where Principal Ron Collins wielded a paintbrush along with volunteers. “It’s great fun to see all of these people come out and share their time and talent with us,” Collins said, adding that he would welcome another volunteer painting effort at winter break.

Parent Kevin Eullister’s son is in his last year at Carpenter, and he was “just looking for something to do” during break.  “I figured I’ll do something for the school before he leaves,” Eullister added.

Volunteer painters at Carpenter
Gilbert Vaknin, a parent at Carpenter Elementary School, works on painting hallways Dec. 29 as part of "Paint for Kids."

Gilbert Vaknin, whose son is in the first grade, came for the second workday on Wednesday. He said his older son, now at Community High, also attended school at Carpenter, so the family is connected. “We feel a part of the community,” he said.

Annette Ferguson, the school district’s business partnership coordinator and also a Carpenter parent, was caulking and priming the walls in preparation for paint. “It’s a wonderful way to build community, to bring businesses, families and schools together,” she said.

Firn said he and Champion hope to continue the pilot program during both the winter and spring breaks and may expand next year to include more schools if there is interest. “How many (schools) will depend on how many painting contractors we can recruit to each take on a particular school,” Firn said.

Carpenter painting volunteers
Carpenter parent Jane Sierra, left, and Julie Walstra, who works in the Ann Arbor Public Schools ITD Department, volunteer their time painting halls at Carpenter Elementary School on Dec. 29.

The school district provided the paint and Anderson Paint Co., Home Depot and Lowes provided discounts.  Anderson Paint also has agreed to recruit other contractors for the volunteer effort if it is done during future breaks, Firn said. As part of the Mitchell and Carpenter projects, the professionals shared painting techniques to participants in additional to sprucing up the schools.

The idea for Paint for Kids came to Firn after he began teaching a “Do-It-Yourself Painting Instructors” class through the Community Education and Recreation Department this year. Mitchell volunteered a couple of class walls as a teaching area.

Firn, who lives in the neighborhood nearby, said he thought the walls could use some sprucing up and “I thought, why don’t we start this volunteer program?” He approached Mitchell Principal Kathy Scarnecchia, whom he had gotten to know during the Rec & Ed class.

They met with Randy Trent, executive director of physical properties for the Ann Arbor district, to get approval for the pilot. District maintenance staff washed and prepped the walls for the crews. “We thought we’d start with the hallway,” Firn said. “It has a normal-sized ceiling and it’s a visible area for the school.”

Champion said he hoped that volunteers viewed the event as a fun, community day that “will be a blast for them and help them take care of their school.”

E-mail Gene Firn at or visit his website at

Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Reach her at or call 734-994-2090.

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