BRANDON — A Tampa Bay school, specifically designed for children living with cancer, received a brand new mural this week, painted by students to welcome visitors. The mural is on two large semi-truck trailers and is right outside their new building set to officially open March 9. The school is called 1 Voice Academy and it’s the first school of its kind in the country.
“I don’t usually like to paint on a small piece of paper because I like to show my feelings on a big piece,” said 11-year-old Arianna Shiver, who was doing her best to stay in the lines.
The school officially opened in August and was created for children, just like Shiver, who is undergoing treatment for Paraganglioma.
“Its a cancer the size of a chicken egg in your abdomen,” said Shiver.
Mary Ann Massolio, Founder of 1 Voice Academy, said she wished a school like this was around when her own son Jay was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of nine.
“My son wanted to go to school desperately and couldn’t, so it really resonated with me after he passed that there should be a place where children who are on treatment and immune-compromised have a safe place of their own to go to school,” said Massolio.
1 Voice Academy is officially accredited with the Hillsborough County Public School’s hospital homebound program.
“And it’s the first school in the country for children with cancer,” said Massolio.
The children said they wanted the mural to reflect their diversity and highlight all the activities they can still enjoy.
“I feel like they really show what these kids are going through as they go through their treatments,” said 15-year-old Christian Reggi.
1 Voice is a nonprofit so events like this are only possible thanks to community donations.
“We helped get some of the materials out here with the sponsorship, we’re out here helping paint, and run the event, and making sure everything goes smoothly,” said Beau Blouin with Key HR Orlando.
Artist Rasta Geary Taylor said the kids may have been looking to him for advice, but in return he looked to them for inspiration.
“You know their eyes get really big and they are a little nervous in the beginning and once they start getting their hands dirty and getting in it the magic starts happening,” said Taylor.
These boys and girls said the best part is making friends with people who are just like them.
“I went kind of through the same treatment that they are going through,” said Shiver, who added that it’s nice to be with other kids who understand cancer.
For more information, visit 1voicefoundation.org.