Ali FitzHarris’s parents have known for years that their daughter is different. Ali is kind and empathetic, with an excellent vocabulary and reading skills far beyond her years. But she struggles with math problems, motor tasks, and interpreting others’ body language. At age 5, Ali was diagnosed with non-verbal learning disability (NVLD), a condition that can affect social skills.
Ali was frequently the target of bullies at school. Teasing, name-calling, exclusion, and even physical violence were all too present in Ali’s life, and support from schools and administrators fell short. Terri FitzHarris, Ali’s mother, quickly learned that she would have to be her daughter’s advocate.
Meanwhile, Ali found comfort in an unexpected place: creating art. “One symptom of NVLD is poor motor coordination,” Terri explains. “So she was never supposed to be able to make art. But she proved us all wrong.” Ali’s specialty is anime and manga drawing, a style influenced by Japanese comic books and graphic novels. Online, Ali is part of a community of like-minded artists. And her work has been displayed front and center at her school district’s student art show.
When Terri needed business cards for her antique sales business, she contacted Oregon Printing. Oregon’s paper provider is GPA, and GPA’s Vice President of Corporate Strategy, Mary Ann Geers, is a former classmate of Terri’s. Oregon and GPA got wind of Ali’s story and wanted to do something to help the budding artist.
GPA donated paper, and Oregon printed a series of Ali’s drawings on notecards, postcards, and journals. We also invited her to the shop to see them roll off the press. Then, Amanda Pond and our GPA paper rep Cindy Zahneis treated Ali to lunch in downtown Dayton.
The experience was a turning point. “Ali was at the end of her rope,” Terri says. “But the change in her since that day has been incredible. To use Ali’s own words, it was ‘life-changing.’”
From there, things snowballed. Terri mentioned Ali’s artwork to a few other friends, and now it’s being sold in shops from Ohio to Florida. “Ali and I want her story to be a lesson to other kids,” Terri says. “It’s okay to be different. Being yourself can lead to great things.”
Now, Ali is using her success to stop bullying from happening to others. This summer, she’s volunteering as a mentor for kids with disabilities. She hopes to use the earnings from her artwork to bring Challenge Day, a nationwide program that teaches acceptance and respect, to her former middle school. She dreams of an anti-bullying poster competition for elementary and middle school students, where she’d award a prize for the winning design. And when she enters high school this fall, Ali wants to form an organization for other students who have been bullied to find healing through art.
“Ali is a normal teenager with challenges like everyone else,” Terri says. “But despite all she has experienced, she’s never become jaded or bitter. She sees the good in all people, even those who have bullied her.”
“I have her art to thank for that. Art has been her lifeline and has kept her grounded. I hope Ali’s story encourages other kids to find their own ways to shine.”
Oregon is proud to help share Ali’s designs—and her kindness—with the world. We love watching young artists make their mark in the industry and push forward. As Industry experts, as seasoned designers, as marketers – we must all give a little time and a lot of encouragement to teach our youth about the beauty of art. To order stationery or journals customized with Ali’s designs, email us at [email protected].