Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”


Edition 30 — Samantha Davern

An Artist Turned Vet

A teenage Davern pictured at AFH.

When Samantha Davern was a 15-year old freshman at Boston Latin School, she googled: “summer jobs for high school students.” A non-profit named Artists For Humanity popped up on her screen. Remembering the fun she’d had crafting and scrapbooking with her mom when she was younger, she decided to check it out.

Davern was amazed at how kind and welcoming the organization was. She felt it at her job interview and again on her first day in the Painting Studio. “When I walked in I was kind of lost,” she admitted. “The Painting Studio was so huge and it was incredibly busy.” Luckily, Laura Keane, a former mentor at AFH, sensed Davern’s distress and came to her rescue.

“From my first day there, everyone was just really helpful.”

Davern harbors many good memories from her time at AFH, one being her very first client project for Tripadvisor to interpret and paint their travel destinations onto 4’x8’ panels for the lobby of their new headquarters. “We had seven different canvases for the seven different continents. I did the detail-work for the Europe one because they liked my attention to detail,” she said proudly. “That was a really cool project. I still have the picture of the seven different canvases because I thought they came out beautiful.”

One of Davern’s works from the Painting Studio at AFH.

Davern also reminisced fondly on the summer trips to the Boston Harbor Islands that they’d go on to gain inspiration from nature and sketch. “I know there was one day in particular we went to Spectacle Island, and we were trapped there for a couple hours because of a severe thunderstorm,” Davern said laughing. “But one of the other kids brought his guitar and we sat outside and sang along to songs while he played his guitar. It was another cool way to bond with everybody.”

The mentors, Davern mentioned, also played a big role in fostering a team and community atmosphere throughout the year. “When we got new teens [in the studio], they paired us up so we could ‘show them the ropes’ and everything,” she explained. Not only that, but Davern’s mentors always did their best to provide her with all the support that she needed.

“I thought the mentors were all amazing. Even if I needed help with a really basic thing they would come over and help and answer all my questions and show me how to do things.”

Davern working in the Painting Studio at AFH.

“I always thought [AFH] did a lot of cool community outreach projects,” Daven remarked. She remembers being part of an event at the Gillette plant, where their employees brought their children to work and AFH had prepared a large, pre-composed painting of Gillette for the children to fill in with their help. “It was really cool to interact with the AFH community outreach team who could both build awareness of the arts and also of [AFH]. Like, we’re here, we’re a cool studio. You should check us out!”

Once high school was nearing its end and Davern started thinking about college, she worked closely with the Education Director Lesley Kantlehner to find scholarship opportunities that would help pay for a private university. “There was one that she showed me — the Phillips Student Scholars,” Davern remembers, “and I actually ended up getting the highest amount they awarded, which was $10,000 for my first year. That was really helpful.”

“I stayed at AFH for four years because they were incredibly supportive about everything. From learning basic skills with painting to helping with college and scholarship applications.”

While Davern loved her time at AFH, her true passion was biology. In high school she was part of the marine biology club and the biology-based classes were always her favorite. After graduating in 2015, Davern attended the University of New Haven in Connecticut and double majored in Marine Biology and Biology. Currently, Davern is a 3rd year graduate student at the Tufts Veterinary School.

One of Davern’s works from the Painting Studio at AFH.

Recently in June 2021, Davern took part in a 16-day program called Vets Go Wild in South Africa. “I was really, really excited to go because I’m someone who loves wild life and loves conservation,” she said. The program included educational lectures, but also had a lot of hands-on aspects. “Our second day there they threw us into a field of buffalo and had us do all this stuff!” Davern said excitedly.

Apart from buffalo, Davern also had the chance to work with animals like giraffes and big cats. She also got to learn about many issues that South African wildlife are experiencing, from the current seven year drought to rhino poaching. “It was really hard to listen to because it’s just so sad, but it was really cool to get that firsthand experience and hear what other countries are facing with their wildlife.”

After her Vets Go Wild experience, Davern is looking to specialize in either Exotic Animal Medicine or Internal Medicine. She hopes that her upcoming rotations at the veterinary school will help her decide which she’d like to do for her residency.

One of Davern’s works from the Painting Studio at AFH.

Despite veterinary medicine being quite a ways away from AFH’s specialty in art and design, Davern believes there were many skills that she developed at AFH that carried over into the work she does now. “Veterinary Medicine is a lot of paying attention to the little details,” she explained. “And I know in my paintings I was never happy unless all those little details were perfect.” Aside from being detail-oriented, AFH also helped Davern gain confidence in herself. “I was always a more introverted and shy person, but AFH definitely helped build up my confidence in interacting with people I didn’t know and selling myself. Like this is who I am and this is what I can do.”

“I’m proud of [AFH],” Davern said regarding AFH’s 30 year anniversary this year. “It’s really cool to see how far they’ve come, like I know a few years back they added that new addition to their building!” Davern remembers that they were just starting to talk about expanding the building when she was a teen. “I toured around [the expansion] and they have so much more space now! It’s so cool!” Davern hopes that with the additional space and general growth of the organization, AFH will continue to support kids from low income families and expand their community outreach efforts.

Davern pictured as an adult.

“If I could tell [my teenage self] anything,” Davern began, “it would be to stop second guessing yourself. You’re doing fine.” For a long time, Davern felt unsure of her direction, and it wasn’t until recently that she realized that all the uncertainty was worth it. Though Davern continued to identify her path for years after she left the organization, AFH was able to provide a reliable source of support throughout her teenage years, and that is something she will always be grateful for.

Written by Casey Chiang