LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — As Hanan Davis, 17, surveyed over a year's worth of hard work, she felt "a little emotional." She watched with a wide smile as crews installed 8-foot-by-12-foot mural — called "Together We Thrive" — at the Lynchburg Community Market.

Davis said the project was kick-started when she met former Lynchburg mayor Joan Foster in summer 2017. Foster sat on a panel about women in leadership at a camp Davis attended and gave the student her card after the discussion.

After camp, Davis said she thought, "Why not call her?" and reached out to Foster for ideas on projects that could have a positive impact on the city.

"When this young girl came to me, I thought, oh my goodness, what a sensitive, caring young woman," Foster said. "She wants to depict something visually and have it placed in our community."

In their conversations, Davis learned more about the city's initiative to address its 24 percent poverty rate.

"I am very interested in art and so I thought this was a good opportunity to combine my Gold Award project with my interest in art and somehow supporting the city and being in service to my community," Davis said.

She decided a mural would be the best way to merge the three.

"I always thought public art was really interesting because it's something that someone puts up there and everyone can benefit from," she explained.

The Bedford native completed the mural for her Girl Scout Gold Award Project, which is the highest achievement within the Girl Scouts of the USA. She said the goal of the project is to do something in service of the community. Davis, a rising senior at World Community Education Center, a private school in Bedford, began working on the project in July 2017.

The project was an ambitious one for Davis, who had never painted anything on a large scale before. She said it was a step up in terms of her art skills, professionalism and planning because of the amount of communication she engaged in with the city.

Throughout the process, Davis met with City Planner Tom Martin and City Manager Bonnie Svrcek to discuss the design, message and location for the mural. Martin said he enjoyed working with Davis throughout the process and appreciated her coming to the city early with her ideas.

"The city challenged me because I went in there and said I am interested in doing a project for the city, what do you want me to do? Then they said, 'Well what do you want to do?'" Davis laughed.

The project required her to think in a different way, she said.

"I think a lot of people my age are used to very structured direction — you're in school, this is your homework assignment. . This is when you're supposed to be at soccer practice, this is your structured life," she said. "Then I had this project on the side where I was making the structure, the due dates, and I was supposed to send the emails. It was a challenge."

Davis went through several rounds of designs over two months, trying to nail down the perfect visual representation of the poverty initiative. Davis said this was a difficult process and she wasn't happy with most of what she came up with before deciding to combine aspects of several different designs.

Once she presented her idea to the city, it evolved based on their feedback. Instead of using the phrase "Poverty to Progress," Davis suggested "Together We Thrive" to convey a broader message about the community working together to create a dynamic, successful city.

The final painting portrays a pair of hands holding a chunk of earth with rolling hills, a river and a city skyline behind the words "Together We Thrive." It also includes people working together throughout the landscape.

"That was probably my favorite part because I like putting in stories and small details," Davis said. "It makes it kind of interesting and interactive."

Working on the surrealist-like painting was Davis' favorite part of the project because it was something she already knew she enjoyed. She hopes her final work will inspire those who see it to get involved with their community.

"I'm proud that I was able to take an idea and then it actually turned into something that people can benefit from. . Hopefully just the art being there can send out a positive message as well as just being pretty," Davis said.

Now that her work is on display for all citizens to appreciate, Davis said she is not sure what the future holds. She hopes to attend college next year, but her major still is up in the air. She loves art, writing, international culture and traveling.

"I like helping people," Davis said. "In the future I am hoping to do something serviceful, but I'm not sure where or how. Something serviceful, something I love, which I will hopefully find in a year or so. It's exciting."


Information from: The News & Advance,