WEEKI WACHEE — Weeki Wachee High School senior Kayla Haugen has been spending recent afternoons using pillars as canvases at the Springs Coast Environmental Education Center, transforming them from plain white into cylindrical forests.
"I need volunteer hours for the Bright Futures scholarship," she said.
Haugen, the daughter of Janette and Brett Haugen of Hernando Beach, had been given a list of options, but none particularly appealed to her, so she did her own research and found the environmental center needed volunteer help.
"I started doing odd jobs, like painting and weeding," she said.
Eventually, the center's director, Cheryl Paradis, asked Haugen, 18, if she had any experience with art, and it just so happened that she did. She has been painting since she was 14 and has done murals at a day care center where she worked in another state.
That revelation led to painting numbers on picnic tables and labels at restroom doors to help young children identify the appropriate rooms.
"So now I'm on the seven pillars outdoors. It started small and kind of went big," she said.
She is painting them alternately with oaks and pines. Grass encircles each near the ground. After the plants are done, she will add small animals. The two outermost poles will remain white with inspirational sayings.
Haugen has taken art classes throughout high school, maintaining her interest even as she transferred from school to school.
"I just moved here in November," she said.
She was in Clearwater her freshman year, then moved to Colorado, then to Texas and finally back to Florida.
She hopes to remain in the Sunshine State for college. She would like to attend the University of South Florida, with St. Petersburg College as her backup plan. She plans to study chemical engineering.
Haugen likes to work with acrylics and paint animals.
"I do art," she said, "because it's always been a hobby. It's been something I've always been pretty good at, and it's something I enjoy."
Art offers a nice balance to her chemistry and physics classes, she added.
The environmental center's director is pleased to have Kayla enhance the facility. She has plans for the decorated pillars.
"I can use them. I want to make them so appealing and inviting for kids to ask questions," Paradis said.
The inspirational poles will be useful, too.
"Our goal here is to encourage students to become good stewards of the environment," she said.