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‘Empty Bowls’ event raises funds, awareness

By Jerry Nunn

ROSCOMMON – From the traditional to the abstract, ranging in colors from earth tone to vibrant, the 270 ceramic bowls displayed at the Kirtland House conference center on Kirtland Community College’s main campus near Roscommon were as diverse and varied as the artistic imaginations that inspired them.

Yet for all their differences, the student-produced bowls had a few things in common. All were empty – a poignant symbol of hunger, poverty and homelessness.

And all the bowls were up for auction during the 2nd Annual Empty Bowls Project, a fund-raising auction to benefit River House Inc. on Tuesday, Nov. 9. The project comes through the collaborative efforts of the Kirtland’s Art Department, Student Senate and Service Learning program, as well as local businesses.

Kris Goodroe, director of River House Inc., address the crowd at Kirtland House conference center on Kirtland Community College’s main campus near Roscommon, as members of the Student Senate prepare for the Empty Bowls Project auction to begin Tuesday, Nov. 9. – Photo by Jerry Nunn

“This event is huge when it comes to helping River House,” said Kris Goodroe, director of the Grayling-based shelter serving Crawford, Oscoda, Ogemaw and Roscommon counties. “The money these students raise goes to help survivors of domestic violence and helps people suffering from poverty and homelessness.”

To further emphasize the social aspects of hunger and poverty, soup and bread were served before the auction. Those items were donated by Fred’s of Roscommon, Glen’s Market, Mercy Hospital of Grayling and the Tin Fish Cafe & Pub.

With half the bowls yet to be sold, Tuesday’s auction alone raised $1,200 this year. Last year’s Empty Bowls Project brought in $2,300 for River House and the local clients the non-profit serves making the auction the second largest fund-raiser of the year for River House.

Yet, more than that, the Kirtland-sponsored event helps draw attention to River House and its services.

“That is something we continually struggle with,” Goodroe said. “Having the volunteers to assist in delivering our services and raising additional funds.

“The Empty Bowl Project is a big part of helping to raise that awareness.

Awareness of River House and the organization’s community-minded services was running high on the Kirtland campus during the Empty Bowls event.

The 270 ceramic bowls displayed at the Kirtland House during the second annual Empty Bowls Project on Tuesday, Nov. 9, were as diverse and varied as the artistic imaginations that inspired them. – Photo by Jerry Nunn

Perhaps best known for its work to end domestic violence, River House serves more than 700 families and individuals annually through both its residential shelter and its outreach services. In cooperation with agencies and other organizations, it offers counseling services, advocates for the homeless, impoverished and abused, helps with education and arranges transportation and domestic assistance.

For Kirtland art students, the chance to have their art work recognized while contributing to a benevolent cause is a rare opportunity, according to Joe Donna, Kirtland art instructor and department director. He said some bowls were created production line-fashion by students, while others were produced one at a time.

“Some were a group effort, with some students making the bowls, someone else applying the glaze and I’d come along and fire them,” Donna said. “Then other students started coming up to me, wanting to be involved. A lot of them made pinch pots. Students made them by the hundreds.”

For event organizer Sophie Tullier, one of two AmeriCorps VISTA members at Kirtland and the community outreach coordinator for River House, the Empty Bowls Project has been a two-month effort that proved to be a great way to raise funds while increasing awareness.

“There was a lot of work to do, with going into the art classes and talking to students, then going to the communities promoting the Empty Bowls Project,” Tullier said. “It was a lot of work but it all comes out in the end. This event has lots of ‘wow’ factor.”

Annually, about 3,200 students attend a variety of certificate and two-year degree programs at Kirtland’s three locations – the main campus near Roscommon, and the Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC) in Gaylord and in West Branch – with the college’s service area including all or parts of Crawford, Oscoda, Ogemaw, Roscommon, Otsego, Kalkaska, Missaukee, Gladwin and Alcona counties, and the surrounding areas.

For more information on Kirtland, visit online at or call 989-275-5000.

– Jerry Nunn is a part-time faculty member at Kirtland Community College and advisor to the college’s student newspaper, The Kirtland Current.