July 27, 2016
By Doug Aldrich, Artist


As an artist supporting The Mission Continues Service Learning Project series with Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School in Harlem, I learned as much about service from the students as much as they’ve learned from me. I volunteered and led three classes of 6th grade students to create a mural through their own visual and literary submissions. 

The steps of creating a mural include the initial design & sketching, material setup/prep, which included priming the surface and scaling the sketch, then physical application of paint, and cleanup. Working with a school and students with no art program was a little more challenging for me than I anticipated.

The key was creating accelerated art lessons that they could follow and relate to. Every student may take away something different, but my aim was for them to feel a sense of teamwork and community impact as those involved can take pride in seeing it hung on their school campus. Ultimately, it was designed to inspire students using colors and shapes to visualize what their education should be doing; change the world.


From this experience, I’ve learned new ways of speaking to large groups and to just dive right in using paint and get the students engaged. I found it easier to talk through lessons while they were already painting. Keeping the students engaged and active was important because any breaks I took to talk about a lesson or technique created a loss of attention or misconduct. To address this, I created 1-2 sections per class to be painted. That way if a class was more engaged, they could start a second section, and if they weren’t, they could just focus on one and doing it right.

With the help of volunteers and platoon members from The Mission Continues, the setup and cleanup process, which sometimes takes a while, was done in no time. The Mission Continues volunteers are very goal oriented. I would explain the goal or task at hand, and they’d dive right in to make sure it is carried out.

It’s a characteristic common with the military and people who have served; I think some people have excuses or are more leisurely about their time. The Mission Continues is the contrary, they just get it done based on what resources they have in front of them and that’s important in any community or service project.

I was really impressed and humbled to see so many students excited and interested in painting and having the experience with an arts project. Ultimately, the mural will reflect the student’s that participated and their patience learning a new medium.


Doug Aldrich is a NYC-based graphic artist that paints murals and works with new/independent businesses throughout the city. Doug enjoys working with people passionate about their business or what they do; and the process of delivering art that appeals to whatever environment it will live in. You can see his work at www.dougaldrichdesign.com

Report for duty in your community with The Mission Continues. Serve with a Service Platoon at an upcoming service event near you or apply for a fellowship. You can learn more about our programs on our website and stay updated on the latest news and announcements on Facebook and twitter.