Picture perfect: Soap stars pitch in for Art for Autism

'As the World Turns' star Ewa da Cruz paints with Fida Itayem at the Marco Island Center for the Arts Saturday. Da Cruz and other daytime television soap stars turn out to paint with people with special needs for a program called Art for Autism.

Photo by AARON HALE, Special to the Eagle // Buy this photo

"As the World Turns" star Ewa da Cruz paints with Fida Itayem at the Marco Island Center for the Arts Saturday. Da Cruz and other daytime television soap stars turn out to paint with people with special needs for a program called Art for Autism.

For much of the weekend, visiting daytime television soap stars and locals spent their time with a cocktail glass in hand. On Saturday morning though the celebrities traded those in for paintbrushes.

The actors, in Marco Island over the weekend for the Southwest Florida Soapfest, arrived Saturday morning at the Marco Island Center for the Arts to pitch in with a program called Art for Autism. The event paired the soap stars with children and young adults, many of whom have autism or other special needs.

By 10:30 a.m. the art center’s classroom was bursting with beautiful actors painting alongside children on a myriad of colorful canvases.

Mary Beth Kamper, a volunteer at Soapfest, said she was very pleased to see the strong turnout of the soap stars.

“They are so good with all of the kids,” said Kamper.

Kamper said the paintings completed Saturday would be auctioned off for charity later in the weekend.

The Southwest Florida Soapfest is an annual event on Marco that brings daytime television soap stars to the island to raise money for charity.

Most of the weekend’s programs included names like “Celebrity Bartender Bash” and “Cruisin’, Boozin’, & Schmoozin’.” These events allowed daytime television soap fans to party alongside their favorite stars.

Saturday morning’s activities were different. Instead of carousing for charity, actors got to spend some one-on-one face time with special needs children.

Roseanne Hogle brought her 3-year-old son, Sonny, to Art for Autism to raise awareness of her son’s condition.

Hogle said her son’s autism that leaves him nonverbal, but she believes putting him in situations with a large group of people helps him.

“He has a lot to deal with and it’s better for him to be out and about than to be isolated,” said Hogle.

Sonny worked on a painting of a sailboat with “As the World Turns’” star Justine Cotsonas before getting distracted and scurrying around the crowded rooms. As Sonny ran around on an expedition of the art center, his mother chased him with good humor.

“Right now he’s just being a typical three-year-old. He’s being a brat,” Hogle said with a chuckle.

But it wasn’t just the children that benefitted from the interaction Saturday.

Ewa da Cruz, who plays Vienna Hyatt on “As the World Turns,” said she was touched by the experience. Da Cruz painted a picture of a beach with Fida Itayem, a 22-year-old woman with special needs.

The performer said she often draws with charcoal and pencils, so she’s a bit of an artist herself.

While da Cruz added some of her artistic savvy to the painting, Itayem dictated the overall artistic direction.

“She was very clear in what she wants,” said da Cruz of her painting partner. “I like that.”

Itayem insisted on a bluish-green sand in the painting because of her fondness for the color blue.

While figuring out the details of the painting, the two women worked intimately together.

Da Cruz called her partner “super-positive” and said Itayem told her stories about her family as they painted.

When the painting was finished both women were pleased with the outcome.

“Painting with her is food for my soul,” said da Cruz, who was pleased to be able to experience “a different side of life.”

For the rest of the weekend, da Cruz and the other soap stars will be partying with their fans around Marco Island. No doubt, all will have a wonderful time.

But for a few hours on Saturday morning a deeper satisfaction was evident on the faces of the actors and their painting buddies as they all worked to make something beautiful.

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