Students in Kim Tuttle's English classes at North Mecklenburg High School are contributing to an international effort that will honor the 1.5 million Jewish children that perished in the Holocaust.
Each of her 80-plus, 10th-graders painted palm-sized ceramic butterflies that, eventually, will be part of a permanent memorial on display at the Levine Jewish Community Center campus in Charlotte's Shalom Park.
The Charlotte-based memorial, started by members of the community center, will be connected to the larger effort, which was initiated by the San Diego Jewish Academy in 2006.
Tuttle learned about the local project from Mindy Passe, a teacher at Barringer Academic Center in Charlotte. The project served as the final chapter in the students' Holocaust unit.
Each butterfly was created in memory of a child that died and each student got a certificate bearing the name of the child.
Some used color and symbolism to get their message of remembrance across.
"I used bright colors to represent happiness," said Amy Toner. "It's really great to represent someone, who didn't have opportunities like this class, so they're not forgotten."
Her butterfly also was decorated with swirls that she said represent infinity, freedom and the flight of a butterfly.
Janel Nghiemlee painted her creation with vivid yellows and oranges that were layered underneath jagged, barbed-wire lines. The bright colors represent fire, she said, and the lines represent the broken pieces of hope and happiness.
"That's what I think about when I think of the Holocaust," she said.
Trikeria Johnson said the project helped her fine-tune an inspirational quote she'd been working on.
"The past doesn't dictate your future," she said, reciting her quote. "It only gives you the extra push you need to exceed greatness."
About the project, she added, "Knowing a child my age died and to be able to give back makes me feel like I'm bettering myself and the world."
And Tuttle is satisfied with the results of having her kids be a part of the project.
"They achieved my goal," Tuttle said. "And that was to be tolerant of one another and to be aware of how we tend to ostracize people for things we have no control over."
The butterfly effect
Jan Landau, an educator at the San Diego academy, came up with the idea for the international project. She wanted to create a memorial specifically for the children who lost their lives in Holocaust.
The project was inspired by the documentary "Paper Clips" - for which middle school students in Tennessee learned about the Holocaust and collected 6 million paper clips to help illustrate the number of victims - and "The Butterfly," a poem written by Pavel Friedman, a young man who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Along with artist Cheryl Rattner-Price and Rebeca Besquin, now the project coordinator, Landau founded Zikaron V' Tikvah, which is Hebrew for remembrance and hope.
Shortly after, they invited people throughout the nation and the world to join them in making butterflies. The butterfly was used because it's a symbol of transformation, hope, faith and religious freedom, according to information on the academy's Web site.
So far they've received about 22,000 butterflies from throughout America and places as far away as Paris, China and Israel.
And the Charlotte-based effort stands out to organizers.
"We're very proud of Charlotte," Rattner-Price said. "We've just been amazed at their commitment and their initiative. They made a commitment above and beyond what most communities will commit to doing."
There are similar butterfly initiatives around the country, but the San Diego project is the first to use ceramic butterflies to illustrate the lives lost in the Holocaust, Rattner-Price said.
The community center joined with the academy about a year ago to help reach the worldwide goal of creating 1.5 million butterflies. Each group outside of San Diego that participates is asked to send 18 butterflies to the academy. The number 18 in Hebrew is "chai," which also means life. Those will then be added to the academy's memorial.
The Charlotte-based butterfly project will be ongoing until it reaches its goal of 2,000 butterflies. Currently, about 1,400 butterflies have been painted, and the artwork is being stored until a display area is finalized.
The 2,000 butterflies that will be on permanent display in Charlotte also will be counted toward the academy's goal of 1.5 million.
As of now, no date has been set when the local memorial will be finished or displayed, said Wilma Asrael, project catalyst and organizer, who worked with Tuttle's students.
Anyone, including families, clubs, youth groups and schools, can participate and no artistic talent is required.
Volunteers also are needed to help with all phases of the project from working with the clay to planning, organizing and fundraising. Painting workshops are approximately one hour and can be tailored to fit participants' schedules. There is no cost for materials or to participate.