Erin Griffin

Patton High School student Erin Griffin was one of 10 winners in the state-wide Any1Can t-shirt contest, which helps students learn about global issues and realize that they can make a difference at any age.

Patton High School student Erin Griffin put her own stamp on her creative and colorful handprint T-shirt design promoting “teaching tolerance” around the world, and has since been announced as one of the Any1Can project contest winners.

Charlotte-based nonprofit organization Mothering Across Continents, which leads projects on four continents to provide education for orphans and vulnerable children, also aims to get North Carolina students involved in spreading awareness and speaking out for less-fortunate children, no matter where they are.

The Any1Can T-shirt contest contained 21 candidates and students from eight different schools around the state who submitted painted T-shirts, all of which addressed one of the following global issues: poverty, hunger, water, conflict, education, environment and tolerance.

Mothering Across Continents Communications Director Cindy Ballaro said the contest, which is for middle and high school students, was designed to promote learning about global issues and help students realize they can make a difference at any age. Through the contest, they also were able to raise awareness and funds for the organization’s Raising South Sudan program, which provides community and educational support to a country that is experiencing extreme internal conflict issues.

Ballaro said The Raising South Sudan project was able to open the first permanent primary school in the village of Nyarweng.

“They have been under some conflict, and so we are still continuing to support them with education resources,” she said. “We just got a grant to create some books in their language.”

The organization also has made efforts in South Africa, Haiti and Rwanda.

Ballaro said they received about 2,000 T-shirt entries, and that they were impressed with the students’ artistic power.

The judging panel was made up of fashion merchandise professionals, and the voting was $1 online and open to the public. T-shirts also were displayed in public art exhibits and community dialogues. The contest ended in February, and 10 winners were chosen based on their t-shirt design, Ballaro said.

“It is important overall for them to widen their scope of knowledge and know what’s going on in the world,” she said. “We tend to get sort of insulated where we live, so we’re just really trying to open their eyes to these real-life situations that are going on in not only South Sudan, but right here at home, too.

“This isn’t something that just happens 1,000 miles away, but in your own backyard.”

The winners’ designs not only will be on T-shirts for all ages, but coffee mugs, beach towels, tote bags, pajamas, pillows, aprons, water bottles, playing cards, hooded sweatshirts, baseball jerseys and baby and infant bodysuits.

“We have just been so impressed, especially with some of the Patton students,” Ballaro said. “Our program with the schools was very successful and kids got into it. Even a high-schooler can make a difference.

“It’s important for them to feel that pride and know they can make a difference. We hope that as they grow up they are going to take that with them, help out in other ways and do their part.”

Ballaro said she thinks the students have responded very well to the contest and what it symbolizes.

“The kids that I’ve come in contact with who are a part of our program continually say that working with Mothering Across Continents has given them a vehicle to really make a difference,” she said. “I’ve just heard them say that they are so happy that their eyes have been opened and the opportunity has been there for them.”

Education Program Manager Elizabeth Peacock said the contest provided a unique and powerful opportunity for students to get involved.

“There are certainly lots of ways students can be creative and be involved in service,” she said. “What I loved about this project is that it combined both. There was such a high level of design in the shirts that we were able to take it and turn it into an online store.

“It’s a project that really speaks to the fact that everyone has a voice and everyone can say something powerful. It really was a project that lots of people got to be a part of. I think once you go through something like this, it changes your perspective on the world.”

Peacock said she hopes this contest has helped Griffin grow and made her want to participate in similar projects.

“I hope it makes her want to continue to be involved in service, above anything else, and to not ever be afraid to put herself and her ideas out there,” she said. “You should just never be afraid to share messages with the world.”

Griffin’s shirt stood out because she definitely put her own personal ideas and style into it, Peacock said.

“She really used her shirt as kind of a metaphor for reaching out and connecting,” she said. “One of the reasons I love Erin’s shirt is that it actually has her handprint on it. It’s a cool personal and broad statement, and she was very powerful in how she made it personal.”

Above all, Peacock said she hopes the Any1Can contest and Mothering Across Continents helps young people of all ages realize they are able to speak up.

“I hope that realize that a lot of people never make these connections,” she said. “I think they’re very proud of themselves. It’s really powerful and meaningful for a lot of students to see that they can make a difference.

“People pay attention when young people start speaking up for change. People listen.”

Griffin, who will be in 11th grade this fall at Patton High School, designed a T-shirt using rainbow-color paints and her handprint inside of a heart shape, with the “Any1Can” slogan around it.

Griffin said that the contest and what it symbolizes has made her realize that there are people who are not as fortunate and it is important to offer support and help raise funds for them.

“Growing up in such a privileged community and family, (I’ve realized) it’s just important to show others that not everyone has that and to share with them that care and support,” she said. “It’s an incredible program and we’re very privileged that it came to our school and we had the opportunity to participate in it.”

The bright colors in her T-shirt symbolize diversity and reaching out to everyone everywhere, and her handprint represents being able to lend a helping hand, Griffin said, and she hopes those who purchase merchandise with her design on it will receive the same message.

“It has simplicity to it, yet there are details within it that give it meaning and depth and that tell a story,” she said. “I think of someone reaching out their hand with a smile. I hope that’s what they think of when they see it.”

Griffin said she will always remember winning this contest because something personal she made will mean something to others.

“When I found out (that I had won), it was really neat to realize that mine was really going to be able to be made and that I was able to make a difference,” she said. “That was really exciting.”

It is important to know that we are capable of helping others at any age, Griffin said.

“There is always a way to be helping others, (even) something as small as making a T-shirt,” she said. “We’re never too young to start helping and show that we care.”

To order a t-shirt or other merchandise with the winning contest designs, visit http://www.cafepress.com/motheringacrosscontinents. For more information on Mothering Across Continents, visit http://www.motheringacrosscontinents.org or call 704-607-1333.

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