BELOIT, Wis.— A UW-Madison student is grateful she could lend her artistic talents to a one-of-a-kind project at Beloit’s Merrill Elementary School.

Sirena Flores was commissioned to create dozens of empowering and inspiring canvases, all featuring a diverse set of cartoon friendly kids.  

"I know that feeling of not being able to see yourself or see yourself in cartoons or books, and just in role models that look like yourself so I think it's just really important for confidence," Flores said about what attracted her to the unique project.

Flores identifies as African-American, Mexican and white, "So I consider myself Afro-Latina," she said.

Merrill Elementary is made up of mostly African-American and Latino students.  Principal Brandye Hereford says those students did not see themselves represented in the main hallway prior to the painting project.  

Now affirmative faces and messages greet anyone walking into the building.

"And then you realize you are somebody like this and there are no limits to what you can do," Principal Hereford said. "Kids need this, so on top of COVID and quarantining and are starting to come back into the building, this is even more important at this time," she added.

The project was paid for through donations and PTO funds, but Principal Hereford hopes the community can help her pay the $500 to re-paint the upstairs hall mural and add the Flores' final works of art.

Meanwhile, Flores is just thankful she can lend her third generation artistic skills to the special project. 

"This is a special way of allowing others to see themselves. And I think when children see themselves they just light up and they feel happy and they feel excited," Flores said. 

You can learn how to donate by contacting the school directly.