Artistic philanthropist

Kelly West spreads out paintbrushes, sets up canvases and awaits her students.

“I want them to be able to relax — just escape the fact that they are there for cancer treatments,” West said of the Hope Lodge residents and families who she teaches to paint once a month.

Hope Lodge provides living space for cancer patients and their immediate family who have traveled from other parts of the state for treatment. While they are not going through treatment, they are fed and often entertained.

“It makes me realize how small my problems are and makes me appreciate how healthy my own family is,” West said. “I’m sure all of that is really scary and I’m there to just give them a fresh face to talk to.”

West began her adventure with the American Cancer Society as a freshman member of Oak Mountain High School’s Relay for Life team. She became a captain the next year but didn’t feel she was doing enough.

One e-mail later and West found herself devoted to a regular art program at the Hope Lodge.

“I’ve had some people who have never painted before who have since gone home and bought canvases and paint,” she said.

Her aim with each class is to allow patients and their families to mentally check out from the stress of cancer treatments. Now, her project benefits the lodge further. Lodge administrators began using the artwork to create greeting cards. West solicited a local art supply store and printer to get painting supplies and printing services donated.

All of the proceeds from selling the cards go back to the Hope Lodge to provide food and other necessities to patients. The project was so successful that Hope Lodge plans to continue it. West hopes to encourage underclassmen at OMHS to help continue the work once she moves on to Auburn University next fall.