Denae Starry, 17, is the daughter of Allyn and Dennis Starry of Hometown. Denae taught an elementary level after-school art class, and painted a mural in her church.

"I taught art classes for children at Tamaqua Area Elementary School for nine weeks, then, at the end, it culminated in an art show," she says.

She taught the art classes once a week, and held the art show in the spring. The show, held in the school lobby, featured the students' works, which ranged from paintings to clay.

The lessons and show were also part of language arts teacher Thelma Urban's Hero project, which included some of Denae's classmates, including Victoria Mueller, Erika Cassell, Karina Derr and Christian Gardiner.

"She is wonderfully creative. It was such a joy to see her make her passion for art come alive for the kids. They took to her right away because of her enthusiasm and genuine desire to help them express themselves creatively. They were so proud and had so much fun they didn't even realize they were learning," Urban says of Denae.

"Denae, through her dedication, effort, and passion certainly proved to me that she is a hero. From inception to conclusion, Denae took charge and single-handedly planned and executed her project. It was a lot of work, but was a labor of love. I think both the children in the class and Denae will take the lessons they learned with them for a very long time," Urban says.

The mural Denae painted as the second part of her Gold award project graces the fellowship hall at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hazleton.

The large mural depicts three crosses on a hill at sunrise. She finished the mural in late fall/early winter of last year, after working on it for about two and a half months.

"I was very pleasantly surprised when the family brought it in. It is a powerful rendering of the Easter morning resurrection. The mural depicts the empty crosses with the sun rising, a very bright orange sunrise," says the Rev. Matthew Rasmussen, pastor.

"It's a great message for people to see when they enter the fellowship hall. (The message of Christ's resurrection) is a great message for people to contemplate as they use the fellowship hall. We're very grateful, and look forward to appreciating the mural for years to come."

What did the projects teach her?

"Definitely don't leave acrylic dry on your brushes," she says with a smile. "I went through so many paint brushes."

But on a serious note, Denae says doing the projects taught her the value of patience, and how to develop her "people skills."

In teaching the art classes, she learned about planning, and getting people to work together as a group to accomplish goals.