Children Artists Take Up Cause Dear to Chappaqua Girl’s Heart

A pet portrait done by a Draw for Paws artist that helps raise money to rescue animals from Mississippi shelters. Child artists will be at Desires by Mikolay in Chappaqua this Friday from 3 to 5 p.m.

Robin Chwatko and her family have been regular volunteers at the SPCA of Westchester in Briarcliff Manor. So it wasn’t particularly surprising that last year her daughter, Scarlett, devised a way to raise money for the no-kill shelter.

Scarlett launched a program called Draw for Paws, where a donation of a least $20 would get the donor a portrait of their pet by one member of a group of artists, most of them local children in Chappaqua and neighboring communities.

What was eye-opening, however, was that Scarlett was eight years old and had been battling brain cancer for close to three years. She even came up with the name for the effort, its mission and its logo.

“She literally loved animals more than anything in the entire world and literally said if she could adopt every animal in the world she would,” said Chwatko, a Chappaqua resident.

In March, Scarlett lost her fight with brain cancer, but Chwatko and her family, along with her daughter’s friends, community supporters and the SPCA, have been hard at work to make sure that her effort lives on.

In its first six months, Draw for Paws raised about $30,000, using the services of now more than 40 volunteer artists, dubbed the Scarlysquad. Some of the children artists will be at Desires by Mikolay on King Street this Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. to draw live pet portraits for anyone making the minimum $20 donation to the SPCA and brings their pet with them. It is part of the jewelry store’s annual Shop for a Cause event.

Chwatko said that her daughter was driven to help others because of her love for animals. But the family takes seriously the importance of community service, something that has also been instilled in her son, Max, she said.

“I know that she wouldn’t want (her illness) to be her legacy,” Chwatko said. “She would want instead to know that she was helping every possible animal and that’s how all of this started. She laid all of the groundwork.”

Lisa Bonanno, the SPCA’s director of events and communication, said the money raised through the portraits goes to help Scarlett’s Rainbow Rescue Fund. The shelter works with the Homeward Bound Project of Mississippi to rescue pets who are stuck in shelters in the south, many of which euthanize animals if they haven’t been adopted after a certain length of time.

The money that is raised by the SPCA for the effort is used to have volunteers drive down in a van to Mississippi to pick up the animals. Homeward Bound is run entirely by volunteers, many of whom are veterinary students or are affiliated with the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Bonanno said the children who volunteer to draw the portraits love what they do.

“I know the kids really enjoy doing it. They’re really proud of their work,” she said. “They love it and the best part is everyone knows that it goes toward literally saving animals for this program. It’s very rewarding for everyone and that’s exactly what Scarlett would have wanted.”

Chwatko said Scarlett learned quickly from the efforts of her older brother who organized a joke-telling fundraiser for pediatric cancer research at the Chappaqua Farmers Market and has also participated in Swim Across America in the summer, which also raises money for cancer research.

With friends and relatives throughout the United States, Chwatko said she and her family are looking to expand Draw for Paws in other areas, including Boston, Texas and California.

She said Scarlett seemed to be on a mission and wanted to make sure she made an impact.

“We happen to live in a community that is incredibly generous and incredibly supportive and I think she saw that, and again, she saw the wonderful thing her brother did, and that was his mission, and there was no question this was going to be her mission,” Chwatko said.

Desires by Mikoloay is located at 55 King St. in Chappaqua for those interested in participating in Draw for Paws this Friday. For more information on the project and how you can help, visit www.drawforpaws.org.

The original posting of this article incorrectly noted that Swim Across American was affiliated with the American Cancer Society. The Examiner regrets the error.

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