On a rainy and gloomy Saturday, a strong turnout of children and adults filtered into a makeshift art studio inside the Eastwood Mall to mix creativity with raising money for a good cause.

The two groups — kids in the morning and adults in the evening — gathered for a paint party and a sip & paint, respectively, hosted by Game Changers, a leadership and peer counseling program for high school student athletes. 

The event highlighted the importance of nurturing artistic expression in young minds and fostering a love for creativity while raising funds for the Phil Annarella Legacy Scholarship and Game Changers Workforce Readiness Program. 

Profits from the $30 (children) and $45 (adult) ticket sales, along with basket raffle tickets that attendees and mall shoppers could purchase also will support the group’s mission. Approximately 20 local businesses donated food and items for the auction. 

As the young artists channeled their inner Bob Ross on their canvases, the room transformed into a gallery of mini masterpieces. The children were offered step-by-step instructions on how to paint a landscape based on an example being presented by artist Sonya Davenport.

While they painted, kids were able to sip on juice as their creativity spilled out. 

Stacie Johns, 48, of Warren, brought her 8-year-old son, Alexander, to the event. She said she appreciated that the event was on a weekend because it gave her and other parents the chance to have fun with their children. 

Her son was given an invitation because of his excellent school attendance record. 

Game Changers partnered with Warren city schools to give out 48 tickets — 24 for students and 24 for parents — to allow them to celebrate their children’s perfect attendance.

“Part of the challenge is when kids start missing school, then they start missing learning and then that becomes a habit,” Game Changers founder and CEO Michael Engram said. “So we want to make sure that we reinforce them — showing up, going to school, getting their grades — so that they can be gainfully employed or ready for that next step of college.”

Engram said about 200 parents and students attended the early painting session. They were able to raise a few thousand dollars for the workforce readiness program and scholarship. 

“Art is important to make people feel well-rounded even if you’re not good at it. It’s something that’s very relaxing,” Stacie Johns said. 

Alexander agreed. 

“You can expand your creativity to another level and paint any ideas that you want to,” Alexander said.

The Willard PK-8 student went off the beaten path, adding his own touch of birds to his painting.

At another table, 13-year-old Gabby Parker was with her mother, Share’ll Crenshaw. Gabby also was there as a reward for being in good standing with her attendance. Her mother said Gabby is always up and ready for school — only needing dragged out of bed on the weekends. 

“She was the only one from her eighth-grade class that was invited for perfect attendance,” Crenshaw said. “I’m very proud of her. She just got selected for an advanced math program that will be competing at Youngstown State University.”

As the sun set, the venue transformed as the apple juice was spiked with a little something extra for the adults seeking a break from their daily routines. 

The event raised money for the scholarship program through a basket auction with gifts donated by businesses from around the Trumbull County area. 

Engram recently launched a workforce readiness program targeting graduating seniors. The program also benefited from the night’s proceeds. 

“It was a way to kind of cast a wider net … outside of sports. We want to make sure that whether they’re atheltes or not, that they’re gainfully employed or taking steps in that direction of college, military, something where they don’t fall in the gaps,” Engram said.

The pilot program will partner with Warren G. Harding High School, working with approximately 260 graduating seniors, and will expand to students of John F. Kennedy.

Students will particpate in targeted workshop sessions to teach them workforce and professional development at the high school level.

One workshop Engram described will be focused on helping students figure out who they are before worrying about where they see themselves in the workforce. 

Teaching financial literacy also will be a focal point as he looks to bring local banks into the fold to teach children how to handle their finances. 

“We’ll have around 35 or 40 personal bankers walking them through these topics and now we’re talking about a 10-to-1 or 15-to-1 ratio instead of one person with a microphone. We want to make these enganging so that they resonate with the students,” Engram said. 

Engram said the workshops will be conducted once every nine weeks.

Michael Engram hopes a family-friendly art funfest will raise enough proceeds to fund a scholarship in a longtime area coach’s name, but, more importantly, that many young people will fill their lives with valuable, positive lessons — one brushstroke at a time.

“My focus is on students being well-rounded. We operate on four core values: academics, community service, leadership and mentorship,” Engram said, referring to the philosophy that drives Game Changers, a leadership training and mentoring organization he coaches that is geared toward high school athletes.

The 8-year-old nonprofit organization also hosted Saturday’s second annual Fall Sip & Paint event at Eastwood Field, the first session of which gave young people an opportunity to express their artistic acumen.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward establishing the Phil Annarella “Don’t Quit” Scholarship, named after the late longtime head high school football coach who died in June 2019 at age 70. In 1990, Annarella, who most recently was Austintown Fitch High School’s head coach, led the 14-0 Warren Harding team to a Division I state title.

For Engram, however, Annarella’s legacy lies more in his accomplishments off the field than on. “He was my mentor, and I wanted to do something to honor him. He always cared more about the student than the athlete,” Engram said, referring to Annarella’s main priority and focus being on students’ academic success.


Annarella also highlighted the fact that sports programs teach character values, and it’s in that spirit that Game Changers operates — regardless of one’s athletic abilities, Engram said. He added that funds from sip and paint event also will be used for youth programming and to take two area high school athletes to the 2022 Espy Awards next summer in Los Angeles.

A primary goal was to raise about $50,000, Engram noted.

He also expressed thanks and gratitude to the Cafaro Company and 11 area restaurants for assisting with the effort.

Conducting the first of two autumn-themed Sip & Paint a 40-year artist who attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and of Houston before graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta.

“I teach them to cover the whole picture and get them to visually see what they’re painting,” said Davenport, whose interest in art bloomed in second grade.

Davenport gave a series of art demonstrations during the event in which the young people painted on artboards from stencils of owls and the adults painted sunflowers.

Her artistic prowess also has crossed into the writing field with her children’s book, titled “Jaxon Swag in Color with God,” coming out in November, which combines religion and the importance of color, she explained.

Color was the main theme flowing through Jocelyn Davenport’s painting of an owl, in which she used bright orange to surround the white formation of the bird’s features.

“I like painting in my free time. It calms me down,” said Jocelyn, 12, of Warren, who is Sonya Davenport’s niece.

Jocelyn, who attends McGuffey Pre-K-8 School and is on the track and cheerleading teams, added she hopes to become a traveling nurse or pursue a career in sports medicine.

“She enjoys painting. She was excited to come out today and paint,” Dante Capers of Warren said about his daughter, Elizabeth, 4, whom he guided as she added colorful splashes to her owl painting.

“For me, it was a good opportunity to spend time with my daughter and support a really good cause.”

For Tim Raimey of Champion and his wife, Tammy, the Sip & Paint gathering was a chance to assist Engram in his efforts to steer young people in positive directions, they said.

The event also included a second session for adults.