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5NP2W Spotlight: We Amplify Voices

Creating Community and Connection Through Art with WAV

In March, The Columbus Foundation announced the 5 Nonprofits to Watch in 2024, a group of exemplary and dynamic nonprofits working to strengthen and improve the community. Among these organizations is We Amplify Voices (WAV), which is dedicated to empowering and uplifting underrepresented voices in the community through creativity, dialogue, and collaboration.

Launched in 2011, WAV offers youth, adult, and family programs that involve an array of mediums, including songwriting, painting, performance, singing, and poetry. Through its unique and healing-centered programs, WAV works in the confluence of arts, social-emotional learning, education, youth violence prevention, and character and leadership development.

One of the ways that WAV seeks to heal communities and empower individuals to use their voices is through Community CREATurEs, a free workshop where participants create one-of-a-kind collages using paper, images, and other materials. Open to all ages, these workshops provide opportunities for people to express themselves through art, explore their creativity, and connect with others in the community.

“Coming together and talking about things and creating art helps unlock parts of us. When you’re around other people that accept you, you’re able to work through those problems…Having this workshop and spending time with Charlotte and the other people who come really helped me.”

AJ Vanderelli, artist

The Columbus Foundation recently sat down with local artists Charlotte McGraw and AJ Vanderelli, who lead the workshops, to learn more about Community CREATurEs and the power of art to cultivate kindness and a sense of belonging.




My name is AJ Vanderelli and I'm a local artist and artist advocate and work with Charlotte McGraw in this WAV program for creating Community CREATurEs based off of Charlotte's work.


I'm primarily an oil painter. However, I do a lot of mixed media work, recycling like objects and some calligraphy,


collage work within that. I primarily focus on portraits and plein air. I was first introduced to WAV when they were the Dick and Jane Project and was just super impressed with the artists that were leading the programming for that.


And I thought it was a great concept. And I've worked... worked with adults with disabilities for decades and being that We Amplify Voices or back then at the time it was Dick and Jane Project the way that they brought everyone together you know from people who need a little extra assistance to you know like your typical person and like going through the process of recording an album and bringing in artists to design


the album cover and working with schools. I mean it was just like so many layers to the programming. My name is Charlotte McGraw and I'm an artist.


I do my art through Goodwill of Ohio. I do a lot of collaging. I also do painting. I do spray painting and I do a lot of collaging.


which makes my CREATurEs sometimes come out really good. - I was excited to partner with Charlotte on this Community CREATurEs workshop because Charlotte is delightful, number one, to be around.


Like just absolutely so much fun. And then I just have a huge respect for Charlotte. her work, you know, she's super talented and a storyteller and it's and her work is very important to this community and other communities.


Community CREATurEs to me are people that have live in society and they're ignored.


I show a lot of emotions. in my artwork. I've been through some things and I show that through my CREATurEs and I know how they feel.


And just because you have a disability doesn't mean that you can't do what you want. I'm an advocate for that. - And that's who the characters are.


So that like what I would say about your work, like each character has a story and is living a story and they're not... perfect, they're accepted and loved and encouraged to be better.


Right. My CREATurEs are people in society, showing people in society, hey, we can do this. Which translates really well into,


you know, the actual workshop and the people that have attended the workshop aren't collage artists necessarily.


They, some of the people that have regularly attended have collaged in their time, but it's been a cathartic thing. Like the CREATurEs that people are making,


I said, you can make your CREATurEs any way you want to. And they were like, oh, okay. And I say about within a week,


we got connected, really connected. They were telling me said, you know, I'm so glad you're doing this because it gives us something else to do during the day.


And so at the end of gives us something else to do during the day. And so at the end of the week, they're telling me that I'm so glad you're I went back to the prison. They had a party for me and I started crying. They said,


"We love you, Miss Charlotte." And I said, "I love you guys too." - For the Community CREATurEs Workshop, you know, it's based off of Charlottesville and Charlottes,


like when Charlottesville was in my gallery space that I had at the time. Every person that came through the space was super impressed with the work and the story about each piece and Charlotte's story,


you know because it's a reflection of Charlotte and I think that that's really the importance of the workshop is just showing that like it's limitless like what we are capable of is limitless and we need to share that and uplift everybody else and so Charlotte's work is really important and for people to understand more of who she is,


what her works is. and how it can change your life to do those things as well, to make and create. Because those characters are your narrative, you know, that's your story.


Each person is your story. - It's the way you create the characters. You know, they have like this life and uniqueness to, you know, their faces are funny,


their bodies are in motion. in like interesting positions, all assembled with just scraps of paper and images. We all get together,


- No, I'm just kidding. But we will help you with the scissors. Yeah. - It doesn't matter. - It doesn't matter. - Yeah. you're, you're welcome. - So long as you're nice.


yeah. - I think that Amplify Voices, they're touching a lot of people in the community.


They're letting people know that are struggling. Hey, you know, we're here. If you like this video, hit the like button. do a little art or something,


come on in, we'd love to have you." - You know, even if someone isn't necessarily going to sit in with us and do the workshop, they're still accepted into the space provided with like coffee or water or a snack.


- You're welcome. - Mm-hmm and I think that that's the biggest impact and by being a space that operates like that allows other people who are participating to see that and understand that,


oh, you know, somebody off of the street isn't a threat; they're also looking for the same thing that you're looking for. And it just, it's a trickle down, a trickle out.


- And I think it's good because a lot of people people just feel like they're alone. Nobody cares about them.


And that's not true. And then what I think is going to be really cool is when we put them in the community and how much joy the public is going to get from them and they're not even going to understand why.


They're not going to know who these CREATurEs are, but they're going to see them and they're going to be like what? "What is going on? Where do these things come from?" And they're going to bring,


they're just going to delight in them because they're so awkward in the way that they exist. They're just, it's just going to be bad. People come in a gallery and they're like, "What were you thinking?" Yeah, exactly.


I said, "That's my own little world, you know?" I've been impressed with the organization for a long time. and it's an honor that to be invited to participate with the space,


with Charlotte, with everybody who works here because they're just so easygoing and non-judgmental. I like the variety. You know,


these forms of expression, that's what's going to make the biggest impact on the community. is through creativity, you know, you want to bedazzle people,


and also to be taken seriously. And I think, and to be respected, and I think that that's something this organization also does is, you know, amplifies those voices,


like in a real authentic way. Yeah. Charlotte, it's been a pleasure to come here every other Friday and work with you, get to see you more regularly. So that's been cool.


- Well, you know, I'm happy to see you. - Yeah, that's good stuff. - You brighten up my day when I come on Friday. - Facts. - Yeah.

To learn more about We Amplify Voices, including upcoming Community CREATurEs workshops, visit

May 13, 2024




The '5 Nonprofits to Watch' platform debuted in 2014 as a program to celebrate local nonprofit organizations that offer critical services in our community and are poised for an exceptional year of growth and progress.


2024 Honorees


Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio

Franklinton Farms

Mansion Day School

Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio

We Amplify Voices