Senior, Richard Montgomery High School

AFTER LEARNING LAST YEAR that an orphanage in Guatemala needed art supplies, Susanqi Jiang organized bake sales and other events to raise money to buy 10,000 crayons.

She gave 3,000 of the crayons to a Washington, D.C., homeless shelter, 2,000 to a local Chinese group that helps children in rural China, and the rest to the orphanage.

“For me, my love of art really started with crayons,” Susanqi, 18, says. “All kids should be able to color if they want to.”

Susanqi discovered the power of art in kindergarten as she tried to adapt to a new culture after moving to Rockville from China.

“Art immediately began to serve as my language,” says Susanqi, who attended Beall Elementary School in Rockville. “It helped me express myself when words couldn’t.”

Over the years, art also has helped her make sense of her Chinese and American cultural identity; she paints memories of the rural farmhouse where she lived in China and the uncle she left behind to connect her to her past.

In 2011, Susanqi started teaching art to disadvantaged elementary and middle school kids at the offices of the Housing Opportunities Commission in Rockville through a nonprofit organization she founded called Color a Heart. She designs projects every week to help the youngsters—many of whom can’t afford art supplies—learn how to paint, shape a sculpture, or draw a self-portrait.

“Art has helped me in a personal way, so I wanted to find a way to use it to help others,” says Susanqi, a senior with a 4.0 GPA and near-perfect SAT scores.

Richard Montgomery art teacher Kelly Posey says Susanqi is one of the most talented young artists she’s ever met. “Susanqi’s work has given these kids the ultimate gift—the gift of imagination and creativity,” Posey says.  

Photos by Michael Ventura