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Happy Artist Program gives special needs artists a chance to shine

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -  This week's Pay it Forward recipient is the Happy Artist Program at Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center. It gives artists with special needs a place to belong and a chance to shine!

Blow art is the lesson on the day WHNT NEWS 19 visited a class. One thing instructor Jen Dicarlo teaches her art students each time they meet is how to be themselves.

"Working with students with special needs, we make sure that with these projects and with everything we do, they're expressing themselves," explains DiCarlo. "It's not the volunteer doing something and them kind of just working along with it, it's the opposite."

The Happy Artist Program holds two classes per week. It's something the students really look forward to. Mitzi Whittenburg knows this first hand.

"We get her in the car to drive over here and she's (making hand motions) like she wants to draw," says Whittenburg. "She only signs but she's drawing every time she gets in the car."

Whittenburg's 16-year-old daughter Victoria lives with many disabilities.

"Victoria is deaf and non verbal," describes Whittenburg. "She has autism and developmental delays."

However, in the art class and with each brush stroke, she pushes past her limitations.

"We're so thankful that Merrimack Hall is here and the Happy Artist Program is available for Victoria and all her peers that come here every week," says Whittenburg. "They just couldn't be happier."

As a thank you, the Whittenburgs asked WHNT NEWS 19 to Pay it Forward.

"Perfect! Thank you!" says DiCarlo after accepting the $319. "Thank you guys!"

Merrimack Hall's Founder Debra Jenkins says the money will help them buy more art supplies. Painting is only part of the Happy Artist Program. Dicarlo says they've used clay and objects from the outdoors, like leaves. They even plan to use paper mache at some point.