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Child Artist Program Illustrates the Power of Giving

Golisano Children’s Hospital is the primary beneficiary of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, and nothing illustrates the reason better than the child artist program.

Every year, a young patient of Golisano Children’s Hospital is selected to create a one-of-a-kind work of art that is auctioned off during The Grand Tasting & Live Auction. Traditionally, the artwork has been donated back to the hospital for display in a gallery where medical staff, patients, families and visitors can glean inspiration from these works that reflect each artist’s personality, hopes and dreams.

For the past ten years, auction participants have fallen in love with the children and their art, bidding generously to support the patients of Golisano Children’s Hospital. Bids for the artwork start at $5,000, and last year’s child art raised $500,000. Since the program began in 2006, child art has raised nearly $1 million at auction for the Golisano Children’s Hospital.


patient-to-artist-2A once healthy, happy four-year-old with bouncy curls and a winning smile, Avery became ill suddenly. Her parents, William and Sondra McCaskill of Naples, took her to the closest emergency room, where doctors recommended she be tested for leukemia.

“I immediately thought we would be heading to Tampa or Miami next,” said Sondra. Instead, Avery was transported a short distance to Golisano Children’s Hospital in nearby Fort Myers. She was diagnosed with leukemia and immediately began treatment there.

“Nobody plans on their child getting sick and you just can’t imagine the impact that it has on the entire family,” said Sondra. “At a time like this, it means everything to be near home and have a support system nearby. We would have been separated if we had to leave Southwest Florida. But instead, my husband kept his job, my parents were nearby to help with our older daughter. We kept our family together and I’m forever grateful to the Golisano Children’s Hospital and SWFL Children’s Charities.”

Avery's owl, 2016Now six years old, Avery still visits the hospital often for checkups, which sometimes take all day. Fortunately, she can return home at the end of the day, which is only possible with a hospital nearby.

As a Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest child artist, Avery has had the unique opportunity to work with artist Ellen Sheppard, who guided Avery, and nine other child artists before her, in the artistic process. Next year, Sheppard will pass the baton to a new art mentor, Joelene Black, whose daughter Sophia was the 2015 Child Artist.

Avery chose to paint one of her favorite subjects, the wise old owl. An orange and yellow creature perched on a branch, the owl’s eyes say it all with an inquisitive twinkle that Sondra assures us is a window into her daughter’s personality. The sky indicates a sunny outlook, and the optimistic tone is moving considering the magnitude of the young artist’s health struggles. She is triumphing over her disease, and there is good reason to believe in blue skies ahead.

To learn more about the Child Artist Program and Avery McCaskill, click here.