[The story below is a follow-up to a post we wrote three years ago about local artist Ali FitzHarris. We were thrilled to get a chance to catch up with Ali this past week!]
Being yourself can lead to great things
At age 5, Ali FitzHarris was diagnosed with a nonverbal learning disability (NVLD), which makes it difficult for her to read body language, facial expressions and other social cues. That can make it tough for Ali to connect with other kids—and frequently made her a target for bullies.
But Ali didn’t back down. Instead, she found a way to connect with others through art. She’s a talented artist and an aspiring graphic designer. She uses a tablet and stylus to create line drawings and digital art inspired by nature and her love of angels.
We met Ali three years ago, when she was 15. Her mom, Terri FitzHarris, contacted Oregon to produce cards and journals featuring Ali’s artwork. Ali wanted to sell her work to create an anti-bullying poster contest within the Centerville City School District, where she was a student.
She met her fundraising goal and her contest dream became a reality. Over 100 students from the primary and elementary schools entered drawings. Every entrant received a ribbon and certificate from Ali.
Ali picked an overall winner, plus second- and third-place artists and a winner from every school. The winners received gift cards, which Ali paid for with the proceeds of her card sales. The overall winner also received VIP treatment at a reception with Dr. Michele Borba, a nationally known parenting and anti-bullying speaker. Ali’s fundraising helped bring Dr. Borba to the district.
Exposure from the poster contest (like this story by WDTN Channel 2) led Ali to other artists and anti-bullying activists, and she was invited to sell her artwork at fundraising events. She’s been a vendor at the Dayton Opera Guild’s Bravo Fashion Show, and a donor artist for Esperanza Community Services in Chicago, We Care Arts in Kettering and at Beavercreek’s ArtFest.
Now, Ali’s a junior at Centerville High School. This past fall, the lead principal for the high school invited Ali to design a poster for the district’s crisis hotline, which students can call to report harassment or seek help. The school board was impressed with her work, and today her poster is hung in every classroom in the district. The school board also honored Ali for her efforts to protect others and prevent bullying.
Even though Ali gained confidence through her artwork and awards, she still draws the occasional attention of bullies. That stress, it’s believed, triggered two autoimmune diseases that she was genetically predisposed to: Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (EDS).
The conditions cause Ali to be severely fatigued and to suffer from migraine headaches. She struggles to maintain her blood pressure, and she has overly flexible joints, making it hard to keep her knees and jaw in place.
“Everything everyone takes for granted,” Terri said. “Every day, Ali doesn’t know how she’s going to feel.”
Because of Ali’s conditions, she receives home-school instruction and attends Centerville High School for an art class. Ali can rest when she needs to, and her teacher, Jacob White, can adapt the lessons to her style of learning.
“He’s helped Ali achieve academic goals we never thought were possible,” Terri said. “Now she is soaring.”
More to Give
Jacob introduced Ali to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a cause he’s connected to through family. Jacob’s father is building a dream home in the Toledo area to raise money for St. Jude.
Learning about St. Jude sparked a new passion for Ali. She wanted to help Jacob’s father build the home, in part, to honor and thank her incredible teacher. She also wanted to support kids and families who are fighting cancer and other life-altering diseases. She understands that many children with cancer also have to battle bullies because of their appearance or side effects of treatment. Ali also has family history with cancer, having lost a beloved aunt to the disease.
Despite having a learning disability and two autoimmune illnesses, Ali said it’s almost like she “cheated out” by having such strong advocates in her parents, teachers and the art community. Many kids don’t have the same level of support she has—but they can find it at St. Jude.
Ali named her new cause the “Dream a Little Dream” fundraiser since it benefits St. Jude’s national Dream Home Giveaway. Ali has special permission to sell her cards and journals at the dream home in Toledo this summer, before it’s raffled off.
With Centerville City School District’s support, Ali is hosting another poster contest. This time, for “Dream a Little Dream,” students have been challenged to create artwork about their dreams for the future. The proceeds will support the dream home build for St. Jude.
Other artists and families have rallied around Ali’s cause, too. She will be the featured artist at a Fleurish Home store during the Hamilton Art Hop in May, and at an in-home gallery show and fundraiser in July.
“I am at my happiest when I am interacting with people and sharing my art with others,” Ali said.
Soon, she’ll be able to share her work with more people. She’s learning to build a website for her company, Ali’s Angels, so she can extend the reach of her philanthropic efforts.
We wish Ali the best of luck. We’re honored to work with her and inspired by her generous spirit.
How to Support Ali’s Efforts
Proceeds from Ali’s sales benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. You can find her artwork on cards, journals and other pieces at: