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Hernando Peace Posters on Display

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The Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club recently challenged Hernando students to dream of a more peaceful world—and to bring their dreams to life in the frames of a beautiful and innovative piece of original poster art. The club hosted the local version of the Lions Club International Peace Poster 2023 Contest, which asked participants 11 to 13 years old, students of Hernando County middle and K-8 schools, to share their variations on this year’s contest theme: Dare to Dream. Melanie Garcell-Gonzalez of Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics answered the call, creating a beautiful image that claimed top honors in the Hernando County Peace Poster contest. And now, Melanie has been named the winner of the Central Florida division of the competition.

“Though I am proud of myself, I am prouder of the world,” said Melanie. “People’s differences can make something beautiful when they come together, and I believe that applies to the real world as well.”

Melanie’s winning poster, along with other top-notch Peace Poster Contest entries, will be on display this month at the East Hernando Library Branch of the Hernando County Public Library System.

“The East Hernando Library Branch will be displaying the posters for the Lions Peace Poster Contest from November 7th to November 21st in our lobby,” said Caitlyn Wendling, youth services librarian at the East Hernando Branch Library, 6457 Windmere Road, Brooksville. “We are excited to display the works of these talented young artists!”

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The posters made their public debut Thursday, November 2, at the Main Branch Library at 238 Howell Ave. in Brooksville.

“We exhibited all Peace Poster 2023 contest entries at the Main Branch on November 2. Melanie Gonzalez, who is our Hernando County winner, actually took first place in the Central Florida District contest in October. This was a contest that involved 12 counties and over 130 participating posters,” said Zuzana Talbot, Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club. “She will be receiving an award from Lions Clubs District 35-O (Central Florida) Governor Vivian Henegar in November (date TBD).”

“We are extremely proud of Melanie and her accomplishment!” said Talbot.

The Hernando County Public Library System is partnering with the Lions Club to show these superlative artworks to the public, starting with the Nov. 2 exhibit.

“Our last event was at the Main Branch Library on November 2nd. It was the Peace Poster exhibit, the vision screening and the autograph session with author Alex Record. It was lots of fun,” said Talbot, “and we are thrilled to have our talented Hernando students’ artwork on display for public enjoyment!”

Talbot said that her club received a total of 30 posters from three Hernando County schools: D.S. Parrott Middle School, Powell Middle School and Challenger K-8. The entries were judged “based on originality, artistic merit, and expression on the theme “Dare to Dream”. According to the International Lions Club website, this theme challenges kids to illustrate through art how they intend to bring peace to the world. The posters were judged by a panel of judges (including one Hernando County Fine Arts Council member, Isaiah Haddon), who selected a winner whose poster will be sent to the district/state level of judging. All contest entries were displayed at a May 16–17 library exhibit.

Melanie Gonzalez’s color and mixed media image pictures an angel of peace that ascends above the earth, her flight an ethereal mission to unite all people in all nations—spreading a message of goodwill and solidarity throughout the world. Melanie’s colorful poster depicts an angel wrapped in a banner of flags representing the globe’s nations.

“The message of the poster is that all people in separate parts of the world can come together as one,” said this Spring Hill resident in a May 2023 interview with The Hernando Sun, “in peace.”

This marks the third major art honor this year for Melanie, who is also the middle school winner of the 2023 Art in the Park Student Art Show. As was the case with her peace poster, her AITP artwork also came complete with vivid, multi-colored imagery and a positive message. She has been an avid art student since her first-grade year.

Jennifer Radtke, middle school art teacher at Challenger K8, is proud of her pupil. “Melanie is a gifted artist as well as humble. I am proud of her accomplishment and thrilled that her piece has done so well in the competition. Melanie is a gifted artist as well as humble. I am proud of her accomplishment and thrilled that her piece has done so well in the competition.” Aside from enjoying the work of this winning young artist and others, the Nov. 2 Peace Poster Exhibit will showcase the literary arts as well.

At the November 2nd exhibit, the Lions also hosted a book signing event with Alex Record, who wrote “Bats Aren’t Birds.” The club provided free copies of his “ABC book of Animal Misconceptions” to the children in attendance.

Record is a popular Spring Hill author. “I recently had a children’s book published called “Bats Aren’t Birds: An ABC Book of Animal Misconceptions” that Zuzana from The Lion’s Club heard about,” he said. “Both of my parents are opticians, so when I heard about The Lion’s Club’s mission to help visually impaired people, it hit close to home. I felt it was a real honor to be considered—I couldn’t say no!”

True to the Lions Club mission, this special event included complimentary vision screenings for children six months of age or older and for adults using the Welch Allyn Spot Vision screener. This event took place in partnership with the Florida KidSight organization.

Lions International is the world’s largest service organization (1.4 million volunteers in over 200 countries) that serves communities, helps to meet humanitarian needs, and encourages peace.
Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club’s service activities include kids’ vision screenings, childhood blindness prevention programs, used eyeglass collections, diabetes screenings and diabetes awareness projects, Special Olympics athlete support, Lions Quest programs for youth mental wellness and bullying prevention, and many other things.

The Lions Club Peace Poster Contest has been organized by Lions International for more than 30 years; this is the second year that the Nature Coast Lions have sponsored the competition in Hernando County. The Grand Prize Winner of the International Contest will receive $5,000 and a trip to an award ceremony, and the 23 Merit Award Winners will receive $500 each. In addition, the Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club rewards the top three artists in Hernando County schools with gift cards and small prizes. Every year, more than 600,000 entries are submitted worldwide to the contest. Lions Club International is sponsoring the contest to emphasize the importance of world peace to young people everywhere.

In Hernando County, the second and third place honors in the peace poster contest are shared between Mollie Surak, Challenger K-8, and Brianna Davis, Powell Middle School

The fourth and fifth places are shared between Gianna Eacobacci, Challenger K-8 and Victoria Christiansen, Powell Middle School

Honorable mentions in Hernando went to:
Mason Cannon Ponten, Parrot
Nicolas Elwin, Parrot
Naomi Daniels, Parrot
Aiden Streme, Parrot
Sarah Nguyen, CK8
Amelia Lyon, CK8
Kierra Ward, CK8
Maranyelis Marin, CK8
Angelina Poole, CK8
Ireland Bezares, Powell
Chloe Artt, Powell
Aowyn Cornell, Powell
Avont Martin, Powell

Ultimately, Melanie Garcell-Gonzalez doesn’t wish to change minds with her art but to bring about peace of mind through her creative efforts.

“I want people to be more accepting and understanding of other people’s views,” she told The Hernando Sun. “There is no right or wrong. We need to be at peace.”

Student posters at the Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club. [Photo provided]

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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