Janet Rodriguez is the recipient of the prestigious Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award

North Texas Catholic

Janet Rodriguez, recipient of the prestigious Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Fort Worth Chapter's Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award, is seen her with a sampling of her artwork.
Janet Rodriquez, the recipient of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Fort Worth Metro Chapter’s prestigious Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award, is pictured with a sampling of her artwork which is donated for use at the Tarrant Area Food Bank's annual Empty Bowls fundraising event. The event is now in it's eleventh year and will be held March 28 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth.

“Visionary leaders are the builders of a new dawn, working with imagination, insight, and boldness. They present a challenge that calls forth the best in people and brings them together around a shared sense of purpose… they embody a sense of personal integrity, and radiate a sense of energy, vitality and will. They are social innovators and change agents, seeing the big picture and thinking  strategically.”

From Visionary Leadership by Corinne McLaughlin

Ask Fort Worth artist Janet Rodriguez if she feels like a “visionary leader,” and she scoffs at the idea. “I’m a very blessed person with a lot of amazing and generous family members and friends,” she says. “Thankfully, that has translated into a tremendous amount of support for a cause that is very, very important to me.”

That cause – the work of feeding hungry people through support of the Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) - has led Janet, a longtime parishioner at St. Rita Church in Fort Worth, to make her studio, Hart Street Pottery in Fort Worth, the bustling hub of an energetic, ever-growing volunteer movement. Over 120 professional and amateur artists gather regularly at the studio throughout the year to create original bowls of all shapes and sizes, which are used at the Food Bank’s annual Empty Bowls fundraising event, now in its eleventh year.

Janet’s pivotal role in the tremendous success of the event, which now raises more than $250,000 annually, led food bank officials to nominate her for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Fort Worth Metro Chapter’s prestigious Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award. Much to her astonishment, she was selected for the honor, which she received at the organization’s 32nd Annual National Philanthropy Day Awards Ceremony, Nov. 7 at the Omni Hotel in downtown Fort Worth.

“Janet’s dedication to Empty Bowls translates very directly into nutritious, life-sustaining food for hungry people,” explains Andrea Helms, director of communications for the TAFB. “Each dollar we receive allows us to provide about five meals. The income from Empty Bowls is equivalent to about 1.25 million meals, a huge contribution to our efforts.”

When presented with her award, Janet was quick to draw attention to the unflagging enthusiasm and efforts of the family members and friends who join her in creating, storing, and transporting the bowls, and in volunteering each year at the event. “I am accepting this award on behalf of the many, many people who have worked to make Empty Bowls a success, year after year,” she told the assembled group of approximately 500 fundraising professionals, fellow honorees, and guests. “Ceramic artists, glass artists, wood turners, china painters, fabric artists… all eagerly work to create bowls that will turn into food for our hungry neighbors.”

Amy Helling, a fellow St. Rita parishioner, says that she has known Janet for more than 25 years, and has been deeply involved in the Empty Bowls effort for about five of those years. A part-time medical technician who often uses vacation days to work on bowls at Janet’s studio, Amy proclaims that she is “totally hooked” on both the work of creating the bowls, and the experience of being a part of the supportive, exuberant community that has evolved, with Janet’s vision and her larger-than-life personality at the center of it all.

“It’s so much fun, it’s truly wonderful to see this movement grow, and it’s all because of Janet and the way she brings people together,” muses Amy. “Last year, we brought over half of all the bowls that were donated. And that includes a lot of bowls, beautiful ones, done by people that thought they have no artistic ability whatsoever. That’s why I always tell people, come join us, we’ll help you get started, and you’ll love volunteering with such a great group of people, you’ll gain a whole new group of wonderful friends.”

The snacks, the music, and the camaraderie are indeed a powerful force that effectively draws others to the monthly painting parties, says Diane Mills, another St. Rita parishioner who gathered a group of Catholic mothers to create the “Empty Nesters for Empty Bowls” movement after their children graduated from Nolan Catholic High School in 2008.  “We laugh, and sometimes we cry together,” she adds. “Wonderful friendships have grown in that studio. Over the past few years, it has been a tremendous focus of mine, to get people to join us in creating bowls. My extended family members, my banker, co-workers, old high school friends from Nolan and from the parish – I’ve gotten ‘em all involved, and they love it!”

Mary Casselman, a parishioner at Most Blessed Sacrament (MBS) Church in North Arlington, first became involved in painting bowls in 2007 when her daughter, Jesse, coordinated a bowl painting event at MBS as part of her service requirement for the Girl Scout Gold Award. “Janet helped us every step of the way,” Mary recalls. “And that’s when I started coming regularly to participate at the studio myself. Janet is so welcoming, so upbeat, so warm. Her excitement is contagious. And so now, there’s a group of us who are addicted to the joy of this experience. I would have never dreamed that I could do this, to be a part of something wonderful like [Empty Bowls]. So now, thanks to Janet, many, many people – including me – are receiving the gift of offering service, and, at the same time, a wonderful reward of friendship and laughter.”

For more information about involvement in Empty Bowls work with Janet, visit www.HartStreetPottery.com, or call (817) 429-7222. Painting is done in the studio each second Thursday of every month, and the Wednesday evening before that from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Bisque bowls and glaze are provided; donations of $4 per bowl are requested to offset expenses.

Mark your calendars now and plan to attend Empty Bowls 2013, to be held Thursday, March 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the West Room of the Amon G. Carter Exhibit Hall at Will Rogers Memorial Center just off University Drive on the Near West Side of Fort Worth. The event offers the approximately 2,000 in attendance an opportunity to sample outstanding soups and desserts offered by some of Fort Worth’s finest chefs, and to obtain an original keepsake selected from 2,500 bowls created by North Texas artisans. For more information, visit www.tafb.org.

Ask Fort Worth artist Janet Rodriguez if she feels like a “visionary leader,” and she scoffs at the idea. “I’m a very blessed person with a lot of amazing and generous family members and friends,” she says. “Thankfully, that has translated into a tremendous amount of support for a cause that is very, very important to me.”

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