Melissa Jarvis was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30, a result of high estrogen her doctors said, a chemical messenger essential for normal sexual development and functioning of female organs important for childbearing like the ovaries and uterus.
To honor other breast cancer survivors and those who have lost their lives to the cancer, Jarvis attends community events like Painting With a Twist's "Painting With a Purpose," a monthly class where 50 percent of the proceeds are donated to a cause.
Last month, Painting with a Twist partnered with the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, and all 94 of the company's franchised businesses are holding breast cancer fundraisers throughout the month of July. Last year, the event resulted in more than $28,000 being donated to the foundation.
"This event is different from what many organizations do," Jarvis said. "It's nice that it's not in October like many of the other events" for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Owners Michelle Beres and Sharon Reis said the event, which drew 53 women from around Pasco County, has been sold out for weeks. Painters of all experience levels gathered to paint one of two pieces, palm trees at sunrise or cherry blossoms.
Local food vendors like Grille 54, Bonefish Grill, Pit Boss Bar-BQ, Papa Murphy's Pizza and more donated food for the women to enjoy during the three-hour event. Local jewelers, artists and florists also donated items for a silent auction and raffle.
"We've gotten great community support," Reis said. "It's amazing how the community has come together for this."
The two friends opened their franchise in October 2011, after Beres saw a Facebook ad for a class at the St. Petersburg franchise. She loved the relaxed atmosphere, friendly owners and fun painters, some of whom were painting for the first time.
Painting With a Twist is a national chain of businesses that offers painting classes with an instructor to lead you step-by-step through the painting while drinking wine and making new friends. The franchises also hold fundraisers for local schools and nonprofit groups, where part of the proceeds from a class are donated.
Trinity Painting with a Twist's newest instructor, Kelley Brenner, stood at the back of the large front room with six aisles of painters looking to her for guidance. She explained how to apply the brush strokes to the canvas and how to blend colors together. When participants got frustrated, she rang a bell to remind everyone to relax and have fun. When it came time to paint the palm tree silhouettes, Brenner told the ladies to practice on paper plates first.
"Take your paper plate and practice," Brenner said. "I don't want to see any palm trees on canvas yet, pretty please with cherries on top. Practice. You can make your fronds as fat or a skinny as you want them to be."
Occasionally, a song would come on the radio that made painters set down their brushes momentarily and sing along, dancing on their stools. Reis would then walk over to the radio and crank up the volume button. She and Beres danced near the entrance,
At the end of the class, everyone gathers for a group photo, which Reis and Beres post to the Facebook page to show off and inspire other painters, regardless of their perceieved level of talent, to come out and pick up a paintbrush.
For more information on Painting with a Twist and to check out the event schedule, you can call them at (727) 376-1112 or visit them online at http://www.paintingwithatwist.com/trinity/.