Pink Lillies by Laura Myntti

Before Laura Myntti emerged as an acclaimed painter, became a mom of two teenagers, and settled into River Forest with her family, she was a willing volunteer in search of a compelling cause.

In her early 20s, as Myntti took a semester off from college to live and work in New York City, she found it.

Serendipitously, the co-ed landed a temporary editorial assistant position at the headquarters of UNICEF, housed in the United Nations building in NYC. There she fondly recalls showing off the ambassadorial confines to her dad as they relaxed in the Diplomat Lounge.

Little did she know that years later she would come full circle with UNICEF. Now 48, Myntti, a working artist whose silk screens and etchings are on display in museums, has become a long-term volunteer with the world-wide charity.

“Something that is very compelling about UNICEF, at least for me, is their work in child protection,” Myntti says. “It is wonderful work that really needs to be done.”

Since 2008, she has been a member of UNICEF’s regional board of directors and this year is co-chairing the group’s 4th Annual Message of Hope Gala on Saturday, Jan. 29, at the InterContinental Hotel Chicago. Hosted by the Midwest Regional Office of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, individual tickets are $350 and up with tables of 10 starting at $3,500. For tickets and more information, call 312-222-8900, ext. 12 or visit www.unicefusa.org/messageofhope.

This year, Myntti notes, the timing of the fundraiser has been pushed up to mark the anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Proceeds will be earmarked to support children and their communities in the aftermath of the natural disaster, which occurred on Jan. 12, 2010, she says.

Myntti anticipates the event could generate up to $500,000 in donations, which would top the 2010 total of $470,000.

For over 60 years, the organization has worked on behalf of children in Haiti, she adds, and these additional funds will help sustain the efforts of UNICEF and its local partners to provide clean water, nutritional supplies and recreation kits to the estimated 800,000 displaced children in the region.

“It is awful what is happening there,” says Myntti, who has not had the opportunity yet to visit the country. “Haiti is so close to the United States, and yet it is such a Third World situation there. But it is not without hope, as things are happening.”

Artist in residence

Born in Minnesota, Myntti has resided in River Forest for more than a decade, working in both Chicago and Ely, Minn. After graduating with a BFA from the University of Idaho, she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In 2005, Myntti was invited to work with a master printmaker at Self Help Graphics, an art and community center in East Los Angeles that has been doing politically and culturally driven artwork in the Chicano community since the 1970s. Myntti was brought in to “add diversity” as a non-political artist, which, she says, was an honor.

Today some of her silk screens and etchings are in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Mexican Fine Art Museum in Chicago and the New York Public Library.

In April of 2009, her show “Women in Love,” was on exhibition at L’Association Pour L’Estampe et L’Art in Paris. That summer she brought the body of new work to Oak Park, unveiling it at Expressions Graphics, 29 Harrison St.

Currently, she is doing portrait commissions, as well as “thinking about gravity in painting and collaborating with Alexander Smiley, a glass artist.” Her next show is set for spring 2012 at the Well Street Art Company in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Philanthropic passion

UNICEF is one of three causes that occupy Myntti’s time outside the studio. She also sits on the Women’s Board at the Adler Planetarium and volunteers with Amity, a small charity established in 1924 that assists school children in Oak Park and River Forest.

But her passion is UNICEF, which is working in more than 150 countries and saving more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. The U.S. fund for UNICEF supports charity work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States.

In Haiti, UNICEF has already joined forces with other United Nations agencies and NGO partners to assist the Haitian government in building a stronger and more modern infrastructure in the country. Their in-place efforts are aimed at improving the accessibility of services to the region’s children by making improvements in the critical areas of health, nutrition, education, child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene. The group, says Myntti, will stay in the country to provide long-term recovery to Haitian children and their families as they move beyond the crisis.

“When I was 21 years old, if you had asked me about my future, I would have never thought my life would take this particular path,” Myntti says. “But here we are. I believe in the old saying, ‘To those to whom much has been given, much is expected.’ I am not looking for a pat on the back. I do these things just because I can.”

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....