Yellow paint meant it was a good day.

Stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments for an inoperable brain tumor, 7-year-old Emma Stumpf looked for ways to cope with her illness.

When she was too sick to leave her hospital room, and didn’t know how to express the emotions she felt, she turned to artwork.

“I could express my feelings, and say what I wasn’t able to, like when I was sad or angry or wasn’t feeling well,” she said. “I used yellow paint when I was happy, and blue paint when I was sad.”

Story continues below gallery

Art benefited Emma tremendously through her treatment, and in the eight years since being diagnosed, the Greenwood girl has tried to use her experience to help other sick children. She inspired Emma’s Art Cart, a program providing carts filled with paints, crayons, paper and other supplies for patients at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

Now, that idea has gone nationwide.

Emma’s Art Cart was honored by the Jefferson Award Foundation for her work helping make life better for sick children. The foundation, which inspires people to have the maximum impact possible in their communities, has helped Emma spread the idea of the carts and arranged art supply collection drives all over the U.S.

“It’s a blessing that we were chosen for this award,” Emma said. “We’re going to be able to help so many other kids. They’re going to be able to do art therapy in the hospital when they have nothing else to do.”

The spirit of giving that Emma has exemplified made her an easy person to champion, and her idea has sparked excitement nationwide, said Hillary Schafer, chief executive officer of the Jefferson Awards Foundation. The goal is to deliver 150,000 art carts to children by the end of the year.

“Emma has been spending the better part of the last seven years trying to help others,” she said. “Emma will tell you that helping others is what has helped her survive 17 surgeries.”

Emma, now 15, was diagnosed with what doctors believed was an inoperable brain tumor when she was 7 years old. She had to go through 70 weeks of chemotherapy, as well as another six weeks of proton radiation to stabilize the tumor.

The past eight years have been a series of hospital visits, treatments and surgeries on the tumor.

During those long stays in the hospital, Emma used art to express her emotions and make the ordeal slightly more bearable. That experience inspired her to help get art supplies to other young patients dealing with their own illnesses.

She worked with Lisa Durst, her art teacher and founder of nonprofit group Peace of Heart, to create Emma’s Art Cart. The idea was to stock a cart with art supplies, which would be available for the patients at Riley Hospital for Children.

Durst researched how to provide art kits that would be useful and safe to children in the hospital. By the end of 2014, she and Emma had delivered 350 kits to Riley Hospital for Children.

Since that time, more than 2,500 kits have been created and donated to hospitals and health facilities throughout central Indiana.

“For the whole family, it’s been really surreal, and an amazing blessing to see her dream come true,” said Lori Stumpf, Emma’s mother. “Ever since she was diagnosed, she wanted to have an art cart and do something for kids. To have this come full circle for her has been amazing, with the support of the community and (Durst), all of the effort she’s put in getting it started. It’s been more than what we ever expected.”

But Emma’s vision for the art carts was more expansive. She wanted to see how her idea could spread to hospitals throughout the country. That led her to the Jefferson Awards Foundation.

The foundation was founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sen. Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard, a lifelong public servant who has chaired programs for seven U.S. presidents.

Programs, such as Students in Action and GlobeChangers, provide dynamic young people with the funding and tools to enact change around them, Schafer said.

The LEAD360 program was created by the Jefferson Awards Foundation in an effort to amplify the creative philanthropic ideas of young people across the U.S., making small programs easy to replicate around the country. Jefferson Awards Foundation leaders were looking for a way to encourage youth engagement in their communities, and inspire the next generation of leaders, Schafer said.

“We wanted to demonstrate that the power of many was greater than the power of one,” she said. “We sought out the very best ideas of young minds to see the issues they see as most profound in their communities and the world.”

Emma was announced as the winner of the LEAD360 contest in March, and since then, the Jefferson Awards Foundation has worked with media partners, other nonprofit groups and businesses to spread the art cart concept.

In late June, Emma and her family were invited to Washington, D.C., for the Jefferson Awards Foundation’s annual gala. She was able to dress up in fancy formal wear and sample decadent sweets on a massive dessert bar.

“It was a really fun and wonderful time. It was an amazing opportunity,” Emma said. “All of the fancy dresses and all of the food. It was like a big ball, like Cinderella’s dream.”

While in Washington, D.C., she and her family also were invited to the vice president’s residence to meet with second lady Karen Pence. The Stumpf family enjoyed a day by the pool, playing with the Pences’ pet rabbit and dogs.

“Their house is beautiful, and (Karen Pence) a very gracious woman,” Emma said.

Emma’s Art Cart programs are being activated every day, and the effort to extend art therapy to children is gaining momentum, Schafer said. The organizations and business partners who work with the Jefferson Awards Foundation supporting its projects are extremely excited to be involved with the art carts, and donation drives are planned throughout the country.

For Emma, seeing her idea grow has been amazing.

“It’s blowing up. I never thought that it would get as big as it did,” she said.

At a glance

Emma’s Art Cart

What: A program providing art supplies to children being treated for serious diseases in hospitals throughout central Indiana.

Who: Envisioned by Emma Stumpf, a 15-year-old Greenwood resident who has spent the past eight years treating a brain tumor. Her art teacher, Lisa Durst, helped organize the program through her nonprofit, Peace of Heart.

For more information: Go to thepeaceofheart.org or  lead360.jeffersonawards.org/hub/emmas-art-cart

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.