Building a Foundation through Art and Charity

Building a Foundation through Art and Charity

Charity Wings Founder, Elena Lai Etcheverry

“But it really wasn’t the process of sending the money that felt good, it was the process of raising the money and the awareness for them.” –Elena Lai Etcheverry

Art is a beautiful manifestation of the human race. But what if we took the idea of art, and used it for more than what it is? That is exactly what the non-profit organization, Charity Wings does. Founded by Elena Lai Etcheverry, Charity Wings raises money for all types of charities through art. And the charity doesn’t end there.

“I’ve always been into fundraising and I’ve always been into art,” said Elena. “I loved helping people. I enjoy the challenge of it and I don’t mind asking. When I was able to get into what I really wanted to do, I knew that I wanted to do fundraising.” Charity Wings is non-discriminant in choosing which organizations to raise money for, but has a special place for fellow small businesses. “We’ve raised a ton of money for the big charities. Whether we raise a lot of money for them is not the biggest part, it’s more about letting people know that they’re out there. The small charities really need us.”

What is Charity Wings?
The concept of Charity Wings was birthed in 2006 and received its non-profit status in 2008, though the first event was held in April, 2006. Right now, the staff consists of Elena and Sarah Han, along with two interns and many volunteers, but with many upcoming changes the Charity Wings family will be expanding.

Charity Wings primarily participates in tradeshows and expos around the country (art-focused) where they fundraise for various organizations. “Our last big fundraiser was ‘Live from CHA’ (Craft and Hobby Association) Tradeshow where we live-streamed for three days.” Through interviews with manufacturers and designers, attendees and online viewers were privy to the latest art techniques and products coming out. During the bi-annual tradeshow, Charity Wings raised $5,000 during the show and donated all proceeds to A Place to Bark.

Other notable contributions include card collections where Charity Wings sent blank cards to troops overseas to function as letters they sent back to their loved ones. They have also collected socks and blankets for the homeless and contributed to the disaster relief during the wildfires of 2007.

Spreading love (and money) through art.
“When I started Charity Wings, it was something I could do and not worry about having to have an income,” remembers Elena. “And then it grew and it’s now more than a full time job.” For many non-profits, especially the smaller ones, volunteers serve as the backbone of the organization. But there are definitely challenges faced in running a smaller non-profit. Elena admits that a larger staff is essential to the continued growth of Charity Wings. “I need to create a vision that people can really understand. Just being a fundraising entity where we say,’ we raise money and awareness through art’ leaves people to question what kind of art, which charities receive funds and how are we surviving?”

In the near future, the community will have a tangible aspect to link with Charity Wings. Plans to open an art center are near complete, bringing the many activities Charity Wings provides into one location. “Now when I say we’re opening an art center people are so excited about it and no matter what, they can still wrap their mind around this physical location where people do art. The art center’s going to be our way to grow and have a staff and be able to help a ton more people.” The art center will offer various membership options, and of course be free to foster children, domestic violence victims and individuals battling terminal illnesses. An after-school art enrichment program will also be offered to low income students.

Through free and paid art classes, Charity Wings aims to transform the community, one artwork at a time. “I really want to touch the foster kids and the homeless kids because one of our big things is scrapbooking, so I want to do ‘about me’ books with these kids. If you don’t have a mom or a dad, who’s taking your picture, who’s helping you write about your life?” Charity Wings will work with youth to create lasting memories by snapping photos and creating a photo album, unique to them. “Maybe they’ll be inspired by art. At the very least it will give them another outlet for expressing their feelings.”

Elena performs a demonstration from the trade show floor through live stream.

Going global.
Through modern technology, Charity Wings stretches its reach far beyond the confines of Southern California. With connections around the world, the organization will hold video art classes where teachers and students can learn and experience art, no matter the distance.

“There’s going to be some obstacles, but if someone wants to put together a class, we’ll send them all the supplies and then Skype the teacher in or they can be taught through Skype. I know several artists in Poland to make this possible.” Not limited by distance, individuals can participate in an art class at the art center where instructors from half way across the world are Skyped in and projected onto big screens.

Healing through art.

“Through the art center, we also want to introduce art as a coping mechanism for people.” The art center will be a community center where the local community and community abroad can gather and use the studio to release. The center will feature an open studio, gallery, mini kitchen area and a full lounge area. More than just a place to commune, individuals facing dire circumstances will be able to come and experience art as a way to release, restore and renew themselves.

Exercising resources.

Charity Wings has a wealth of support in some areas, but needs more in others. “The art community and manufacturers are very much on board. They want to help teach and we have manufacturers who donate lines of products that they have overstocked that didn’t sell well.”

“We have many artists who want to help, especially on an international level. They like to get involved in this community. And the great thing is, you don’t even have to live in the area.”

Charity through passion.
“I absolutely feel like this is what I was supposed to do. It’s what I’ve been put on this planet to do. Everything else I’ve tried has definitely led me here. I’m good at talking to people, asking for money and spreading the word about different causes.” Elena states to eliminate fear, and be willing to hear the word no. “I’ve noticed that it’s definitely not about the money for some people and those are the kind of people that I find fit me the best personality-wise. The non-profit world is full of those kinds of people. Really having a passion for something means not expecting to get paid for it.”

Elena describes fundraising as the “ultimate feeling,” and credits her tenacity in bringing out a giving spirit in individuals to her success and the success of Charity Wings. Coupling that with her love for art, her desire is for people to “do all kinds of creative exploration.”

“Being a part of changing someone just a teeny, teeny bit is really cool. I know they’re going to touch thousands of people in their lives, and they’re going be touched by thousands of people. If I can be one of those people that helps even a small part of their process – it just feels amazing.”

“We primarily focus on fundraising. But it really wasn’t the process of sending the money that felt good, it was the process of raising the money and the awareness for them. Whether they ever respond to me is really not the point. I give it freely and if I get a letter back, great.”

To date, Charity Wings has donated to more than 60 organizations and raised $400,000, an astronomical number when looking at their size.

Get involved.
Charity Wings is still in search of a location for their art center, preferably privately owned and between 2,500 – 3,000 sq. ft., so if you reside in the San Diego area and have some ideas, feel free to connect with Elena. Volunteers are always welcome, and if you have art supplies, wish to teach or just have a passion for art, Charity Wings welcomes you.

For more information and upcoming events, please visit


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: