Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”
Edition 22 — Amanda Pelrine
A ‘Worth It’ Job
At 16-years old, Amanda Pelrine was in search of an easy job and a quick paycheck. When her friends at Boston Latin Academy told her about AFH, she believed she’d found it. “It ended up being a lot more of an experience than I thought it was going to be,” Pelrine admitted, smiling. “It wasn’t just a quick paycheck. I would have done [this job] for the full three years that I was there without getting paid at all because it was just so impactful — such a ‘worth it’ job.”
Above all, what made Pelrine’s time at AFH so memorable was the people. “My favorite memory has to be making friends that I otherwise never would have had in my life,” she said. Not only did she get to befriend teens from all over the Boston area, but the mentors she worked with made long lasting impressions. “The mentors were supposed to be mentoring us in art,” she remarked, “But they also just had so much life advice and they were so good at working with kids our age”.
“I think that’s really what ultimately ended up making me stay [at AFH] — the warmth of the people and how — I know how corny this sounds — but how genuinely like family it was.”
Pelrine’s time at AFH was spent in the Painting Studio in Director/Co-Founder Rob Gibb’s very first mentoring group. In the studio, he improved on her artistic skill and knowledge and had the opportunity to collaborate with other teens on large-scale projects. “When we did client projects, we were always well received by the community,” she said. “They loved the mission of AFH and they loved the impact that they were having on the kids.”
Through her time in the Painting Studio and working on client projects, Pelrine gained confidence in speaking about herself and her work. When it came to talking to adults coming into the studio, she used to worry that she would say the wrong thing or not represent the organization well enough. But as she continued to work at AFH and build her confidence she realized, “We’re the people who make up the organization. We might have been young at the time, but we, along with many other things, are why the organization exists.”
“The big scary adults — they want to hear from you. They want to hear what you have to say, they want to hear about your experiences.”
One of Pelrine favorite projects at AFH was a collaboration with Converse Shoes. She recalls the day that Swat [Jason Talbot, AFH Co-Founder and Deputy Director] brought them to the Converse Headquarters where they learned about jobs available in the arts and introduced the project collaboration. Kicking off the project in the AFH studio, Pelrine remembers, “They rolled out these really long canvases that went from one end of the [AFH Painting] Studio to the other, and they told us to go nuts!” The unstructured nature of the project allowed for Pelrine and her fellow teens to put all their different art styles on one canvas. Seeing how they blended together was Pelrine’s favorite part.
While Pelrine cherishes this memory dearly, her proudest moment at AFH was during The Greatest Party on Earth. She remembers she was greeting guests at the door when her friend came up to her to tell her that somebody upstairs wanted to speak with her. She was politely explaining that she couldn’t at the moment, when she found out that she’d sold her first expensive painting. “Everybody around me was like, ‘Go go, we’ll cover this. We got you, go meet the guy!”
Pelrine’s painting of hot air balloons over a city skyline was sold to a 28-year-old lawyer from the city who planned to hang it in his office. “He wanted to meet me and shake my hand and all that stuff. That was really exciting. My mom ended up posting a picture of it on Facebook and everything.”
Outside of studio work, AFH helped Pelrine reach academic heights she didn’t think was possible. “I am a first generation college student,” Pelrine said proudly. “Literally nobody in my entire family had gone to college before I did.” With her family being unfamiliar with the college application process, Pelrine was grateful for the support that AFH provided. “When you’re working with young people who have literally no idea what’s going on, they need a hand to hold and AFH really fills that gap for a lot of teens.”
“If Lesley [Kantlehner] hadn’t pushed me to join organizations like Bottom Line, I might not have ended up in college at all.”
After high school, Pelrine attended Boston University, a school she had initially thought was completely out of her reach. In 2019, Pelrine graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Presently, she is the Assistant Director on the Board of Admission at BU and is continuing at her alma mater for a Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.
While painting has taken a backseat for now, Pelrine carried many of the skills she developed at AFH to her current job. “Learning how to shake peoples’ hands, talking about the organization that I represent, and being able to answer questions thoroughly — all of those skills came from AFH.” Pelrine also attributes her ability to collaborate with people with different ideas, talents, and backgrounds to her time at AFH. She recollects a painting she collaborated on with another AFH teen, “So much of our time was spent trying to figure out which ideas were better and who was going to paint what part. That is so difficult, especially when you’re a teenager.”
“30 years is not a lot of time to accomplish all of the things that AFH has accomplished,” Pelrine says regarding the organization’s 30-year anniversary this year. “The fact that it started with Susan [Rodgerson, AFH’s Founding Executive/Artistic Director] literally in a 500 square foot space and it’s grown to be this incredible organization…it’s really exciting.”
“In a short period of time, they have impacted so many people and so many different organizations and have had a huge impact on the city of Boston.”
Pelrine hopes that in the future, AFH will continue to expand and inspire similar organizations geared towards youth development, whether they be focused in the arts or other industries.
To Pelrine, AFH represents community, family, and growth. With AFH, she learned that there are little things that can make a community beautiful and that art can breathe life into things where there isn’t any. The impact that AFH has had on Pelrine is unmistakable. “[Without AFH] I would be an entirely different human being,” she said. Not only did AFH help shape her future and boost her confidence, but it also widened the scope of her aspirations. “AFH definitely taught me that…you can do anything. I would not be anywhere near who I am today if I didn’t meet all the people that I met at AFH.”
Written by Casey Chiang