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Take Comfort

The 1000 Strong Project is looking for a few good artists.

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From a sorrowful Virgin Mary cradling the crucified Christ in Michelangelo's famed “Pieta” to the wailing survivors of a wartime bombing in Picasso's “Guernica,” artists throughout the ages have provided solace and catharsis through their portrayals of human grief.

It's fitting, then, that Richmonder Will Turner is recruiting a coalition of artists to raise $1 million for Comfort Zone Camp, a local nonprofit that provides free fun, supportive camps for children coming to grips with the loss of a parent or caregiver.

The aim of Turner's 1000 Strong Project (the1000strongproject.com) is to recruit 1,000 visual artists to donate $1,000 apiece from proceeds of sales of their work to Comfort Zone Camp by the end of this year. Turner, a recently retired sales and marketing entrepreneur and amateur artist, previously organized smaller local art fundraisers for the Children's Miracle Network.

The 1000 Strong Project comes just in time for Comfort Zone Camp, which is coming to the end of a $3-million, three-year grant from New York Life that helped the nonprofit expand its camp offerings. Founded in 1998 by Lynne Hughes, Comfort Zone Camp runs free weekend and summer camps throughout the year for children ages 7 to 17 in Virginia, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Texas. The camp has received much praise and news attention for its work with children whose parents were killed in the 9/11 terrorism attacks, as well as children of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“It would be such a huge help,” Comfort Zone Camp spokeswoman Kate Stern says of the fundraiser's $1 million target. Because of the New York Life grant, the number of Comfort Zone campers has nearly tripled since 2008, growing from 830 to a projected 2,000 children this year, Stern says, and “this money would mean we could continue to serve these kids.”

Turner acknowledges that the goal to raise $1 million by Dec. 31 is “very ambitious,” but, he adds with a — slightly nervous — laugh, “Your dream isn't big enough if it doesn't scare you.” That was one of the inspirational phrases Turner, 52, used to motivate himself when he trained for a 2009 triathlon in New Zealand. (He came in a “pretty respectable” 47th out of the 82 competitors in his age group.)

It was after Turner completed the race that the idea for the 1000 Strong Project began percolating in his brain. Upon turning 50, Turner wanted “to do something that would really push me,” he says, hence the triathlon. But after he completed it, “the thing I really discovered about myself was that feeding my ego wasn't so important; I really wanted to feed my soul. I wanted to find a way to make a huge difference.”

Turner began organizing the 1000 Strong Project earlier this year. His eventual goal is for the initiative to seek nonprofit status and possibly adopt other charities in addition to Comfort Zone Camp. He's recruiting artists from Richmond and across the United States, especially in states where Comfort Zone Camp operates. So far he's signed up about 40 artists, but hopes to spread the word quickly through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Local art galleries such as Glave Kocen have offered to hold fundraising art shows for the project, which will also hold online sales.

“We want to make it easy for people to get involved,” Turner says, “whether they're artists or just art enthusiasts.”

For information, go to the1000strongproject.com.

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