Living through coronavirus: Butler County art students creating masks for those on front lines

A Butler County youth art program has shifted its focus and its funds in response to the coronavirus.

Instead of creating art projects, numerous students in Art Central Foundation’s Artists @ Work program are spending free time at home making protective masks for those on the front lines fighting COVID-19.

Sue Wittman, director of Art Central Foundation, said the group received a $5,000 grant from Nellie Leaman Taft Foundation to expand the summer art program yearround. Art classes were held in January and February, then cancelled in March and April due to the coronavirus.

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So Wittman contacted that Cincinnati-based organization about diverting 50 percent of the grant, or about $2,500, to purchase materials for the mask-making project.

Three weeks ago, about 10 students and five adult volunteers agreed to work on the project. They have made 375 masks that will be donated Friday to the Premier Helping Hands program ( at Atrium Medical Center, Wittman said.

More masks will be made and those will be earmarked for Butler County nursing homes and other facilities that need them.

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Since there’s a shortage of masks and students are available Wittman said the sewing project was a way to “keep the students engaged creating things and helping the community.”

Gianna Frongia, an eighth-grader at John XXIII Elementary School, was one of those student volunteers. Since classes have been cancelled for the rest of the school year by Gov. Mike DeWine, Gianna said this was “a good opportunity to help” by sewing masks.

It’s important to provide community service, she said, because of the seriousness and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a very unsettling time,” she said. “I think I should help and it feels pretty nice.”

There are about 140 students from Carlisle, Edgewood, Fenwick, Franklin, Madison, Middletown, Monroe and Valley View school districts in the Summer Art Workshop program. Wittman said there are 12 classes that are held over two-week sessions.

She said if some summer sessions are cancelled due to COVID-19, she may try to hold morning and afternoon classes or on-line courses for the older students.


We’re looking to profile people throughout our coverage area about how the coronavirus is impacting your daily life. If you’re interested in sharing your story about how you’re affected or adapting to the situation, call Journal-News reporter Rick McCrabb at 513-483-5216 or email

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