Reflections of a Military Child: Inspiration from Abroad

Two award winning works of student art from the National PTA Reflections Arts ProgramThe Magic of a Moment” captured the home coming of military families. This magic moment is obviously a poignant one for some of today’s youth in the continental U.S. and beyond.

We had the chance to interview Benjamin Leese, one of our student artists, to get the story behind his heartfelt inspiration, entitled “Homecoming Dad.”


Do you have a military parent or family?  Yes, my dad is a Captain in the Air Force.

What inspired you to create artwork about a military homecoming? The theme for the Reflections contest was the Magic of the Moment and there was no other moment I could think of that was more magical than the day my dad came home safely from Afghanistan after being gone for a year.  It was tough hearing about all the things that were happening over there and never knowing if my dad was safe or not, so when he got off that plane and I could run up and hug him- that was just great!

Ben and DadHow did you get involved with Reflections?  I never heard of Reflections until I came to Italy.  This is the first time I was in a DOD (Department of Defense) school.  I have been doing art since I could pick up a pencil and I love it.  I think my art teacher realized I had some talent when I first was in her class, so when Ms. Lizee heard about the contest, she asked if I wanted to enter and I said, “Of course, who wouldn’t.”

What inspires you to be an artist?  It’s funny because this year’s theme for Reflections is Believe, Dream, and Inspire and so I had to really think about that question already. Inspiration is an amazing thing because it can come from almost anywhere or anything.  Inspiration encourages many people to do anything, dream anything, and become anyone and their creativity is unlimited.  For me as an artist, I am inspired by everything I see, whether it’s a dream, a vision, a historical landmark, a famous museum, other famous artists, or even the Superheroes in my comic books.  I am always inspired.  Believe me, being in Europe for three years and getting the chance to visit these famous places, there is lots to inspire me.

Do you have a mentor that encourages you to keep creating? My dad, he has been my battery to my flashlight of creativity.  He’s the one who pushes me. He gives me new ideas and has taught me everything I know.  Without him I wouldn’t be winning any kind of contest, ever.

It is clear that Benjamin’s love and appreciation for his dad is unending.  Though Benjamin lives in Italy, his patriotic spirit shines in his words and his art.  We, here at National PTA, want to acknowledge and celebrate all military children like Benjamin.  We want him and others to know that their courage and creativity are admirable and that PTA Reflections will continue to support them in their artistic endeavors.

For more information about the European Congress PTA, check out their website!

Erasing Emptiness: The Journey of a Foster Family

Passion is evident in a person’s voice.  A passionate person speaks with an excited rhythm and warm tone.  Their pitch is dynamic and their words flow with ease.

I heard pure passion in Deborah Kemper’s voice today.  Deborah is a true superstar.  She is a wife, parent, career woman, and California’s State PTA Secretary.  What makes Deborah unique is that she is also a foster mom who has opened her heart and home to three foster children.  She felt called to help those in need and has exceeded following through on that goal.

Cliff and kids

Cliff with Capri, Milo and Nowa

On a trip with her husband, Cliff, in October of 2006 Deborah felt called to welcome a foster child into their home while on a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro.  Deborah raised two children who are older and now expecting children of their own, but says “We had 5 cars and 4 bedrooms, which were all empty.”  She says, “It was time to help someone else.”  That realization led her to begin the foster parenting process and just one year later, Deborah and Cliff brought Milo, a 7 year old girl who lost her parents to a violent past, into their lives.

Deborah feels particularly close to Milo because she shares a common past with her.  Both lost a parent to violence at the same age and both were separated from their siblings at that time.  She knew Milo’s anger, pain, and confusion.  Since adopting Milo when she was 10 years old, the Kempers have come a long way in creating a new life and new opportunities for Milo and two more foster children, Nowa (age 15) and Capri (age 14).

All three children have been accepted to high school and are making huge strides in their work ethic and grades.  Deborah works with them during the summers to remedy learning gaps caused by patchy attendance in their past.  Now, all three have received awards for perfect attendance.  Milo, now 13, has been accepted into Summit Charter School, which has a 96% college graduation rate among its alumni, a significant difference from the average 50% high school graduation rate among U.S. foster children.


Deborah with Nowa, Capri and Milo

Milo and Capri also participate in PTA’s Reflections program and continue to grow as artists.  Last year, Milo earned an honorable mention for her moving literary work about her experience as a foster and adopted child.  In the moving excerpt below, Milo describes the elation she felt on the day of her adoption.

“A year later I woke up to my mom’s voice echoing through our halls, while she was trying to sing my name, “Milo! Milo! It’s time.  Take a shower and get dressed.”  I had my hair all nice and really curly at first, then it became puffy with curls at the end. The day I was getting adopted February 14, 2010.  The courtroom was filled with chocolate, cupcakes and heart shaped balloons. Judge Lee granted me a family.  Everybody jumping around. No more emptiness. But with pride. Love. Wanted.  Normal. Complete family.”

Deborah and Milo’s story is remarkable, but not entirely unique.  There are currently 542,000 foster children all over the nation.  Though not all foster children have the attention and resources like Milo, they all deserve a chance to, as Deborah says, “grow up to become productive citizens of our society.”  To learn more about foster care, visit CASA and AdoptUSKids.

A Field Trip To Remember

On a cold, rainy morning in January, the U.S. Department of Education auditorium fill with excited chatter while PTA members, arts education professionals and families from across the nation took their seats for the National PTA Reflections® program’s Art Exhibit Opening and Ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring the 2012-2013 theme: The Magic of a Moment.

The ceremony recognized over 200 student artists from across the country with special guest appearances by national award recipients, Bailey Callahan and Jessica Clay. U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Executive Director Rachel Goslins, National PTA President Otha Thornton and National PTA Reflections Committee Chair Dawn Small discussed the significance of the arts, the benefits of arts education and the importance of integrating the arts into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math).

Read more about STEAM (STEM + ARTS) in Our Children Magazine Dec/Jan edition.


Student artist Joshua Williams “Notes”

After the ceremony, the visiting families mingled with a whole class of local students from Amidon-Bowen Elementary School who graciously attended.  The young arts-enthusiasts took time out of their day to celebrate the arts and the humanities with the PTA. This was truly a magical moment.

We soon learned that this was just one of many arts-based field trips Washington, DC students experienced due to their school’s partnership with the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative (DCAEHC). This collaborative partnership provides students with access to over 70 artists and arts organizations to “bring standards and curriculum to life.”

DCAEHC Program Director, Tracey Alperstein, explains that through school-community partnerships, students attend field trips and receive in-class arts learning. In addition, teachers also receive training in arts integration as well as conflict resolution.


National PTA President Otha Thornton with local students at the 2014 Reflections Art Exhibit

The DCAEHC supports many DC area schools like Amidon-Bowen, with ninety-two percent minority students.  Their experiences in the arts and at the PTA Reflections exhibit will be remembered for years to come, fostering a life-long appreciation for the arts. Hopefully, this gleeful class will be inspired by this year’s Reflections participants to explore their own creativity.

Learn more about Reflections at