ST. ALBANS CITY — The entrance to the Academy of Learning (AOL), an adult special education center operated by Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, is a whole lot more inviting thanks to a mural painted by a Bellows Free Academy (BFA) sophomore.

Jennifer Lavallee, of St. Albans, spent 30 hours of her summer vacation designing and painting the new mural unveiled during a presentation last Thursday.  The piece of art, titled “Celebrate Our Differences,” features four hands, all of different races, forming a circle around the Earth, painted in the shape of a heart. Each arm represents a different word of unity: understanding, acceptance, respect and tolerance.

The AOL, which is a part of NCSS’s Pathways Program, aims to give adult students the confidence and skills needed to succeed as independently as possible in life. Claire Thompson, team leader of the Pathways program, had this goal in mind when she came up with  the idea of a mural in the entryway of the AOL, to help inspire students in their everyday activities. Thompson then approached Kasia Bilodeau, a special education teacher at BFA, who also runs the Community Integration program at the school.

“A light bulb went off, and I thought immediately of Jennifer who has this amazing talent,” Bilodeau said.

Jennifer, though hasn’t taken an official art class at BFA, was accepted into the Northwest Technical Center for her digital design skills.

When approached with the idea, it took her just one day to sketch the design. She then translated the image on her iPad, before using a projector to create the piece of art now on the wall.

“I was just told where to go and what to do,” Bilodeau said, adding that Jennifer was the mastermind behind the project.

Jennifer’s work was honored by the Executive Director of NCSS, Todd Bauman. During the unveiling he thanked her for her hard work, and her willingness to give back.

“You clearly are talented. But what you are doing with that talent is giving back to the community, and I think that’s what’s so amazing. Some kids are good artists, but those kids don’t always use their art to inspire other people, and that’s what you’ve done here,” Bauman said.

During the presentation, Jennifer was beaming. After unveiling the piece of art, she then signed it while leaders from NCSS gathered and took photos. With a witty sense of humor, Jennifer had everyone laughing by the time the presentation was over.

“You’ll have to tear apart the entire wall now to get rid of me,” Jennifer said after finishing up her signature.

“I need another project now, how about that wall?” she said, pointing across the room.

Those interested in viewing Jennifer’s mural for themselves can attend an open house at the AOL The public is invited on Oct. 23 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. to learn more about what the AOL offers and its mission.

Disclosure: Jennifer Lavallee is the daughter of Messenger employee Dave Lavallee.