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Forsyth teen finalist in national Christmas card contest
Born blind, local student developed sight, artistic ability
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Forsyth County student Elisa Sparks, 14, is in the final round of the Pier 1 Imports/UNICEF Greeting Card Contest. - photo by For the FCN

FORSYTH COUNTY — Elisa Sparks wasn’t always able to draw her way to a spot as a top 10 finalist in a national greeting card design contest. The 14-year-old Forsyth girl, in fact, wasn’t always able to see.

Sparks was born blind. Her mother, Michelle Sparks, said she didn’t gain her sight until she was 7 months old. After her parents opted out of a surgery to correct her double-vision at almost 2 years, she grew into her sight. And her artistic skills.

She is now in the final round — and the only contestant from Georgia — of the Pier 1 Imports/UNICEF Greeting Card Contest, which showcases young artists’ hand-drawn holiday card designs. The winner will have his or her card produced throughout 2015 and sold in Pier 1 stores, with proceeds benefitting UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund).

“She’s always been out of the box,” said Michelle Sparks of her daughter, one of five siblings. “We’ll go to a restaurant and she’ll draw the waiter. She came with me one time to get my hair cut, and the next thing I knew she was drawing the hairdresser.”

Sparks, who attended Midway Elementary and is currently homeschooled through the district’s iAchieve Virtual Academy, has never taken an art lesson.

But the only item on her Christmas wish list is art supplies.

If she gets the most votes through the contest website, she will win $500 in just that. If judges pick her as the winner, her card will be featured next year, and she will be awarded a $5,000 scholarship.

A partnership between Pier 1 and UNICEF has raised more than $39 million since 1985, the store’s website said. When the winner’s hand-drawn card is reproduced as an official UNICEF greeting card, 100 percent of the proceeds go to the organization’s U.S. fund.

This year, contestants ranged in age from 9 to 14 and spanned the country from Maine to California.

Voters and judges may find the inspiration behind Sparks’ card is as worldly as the organization the competition benefits.

“I thought about all of the different cultures and their clothes and how they celebrate Christmas,” Sparks said. “And I thought it would be cool if I could get their cultures represented [in the card].”

Her drawing depicts four children, shown from the waist down, each sporting a different pair of socks, shoes and clothes. The bottom reads “spreading cheer one step at a time.”

She said she wanted to draw a card that supports the cause “because it helps children all around the world with water, shots, vaccinations and any other disasters and donates the money back to them.”

Sparks began drawing when she was about 5 or 6, citing pencils and sketching as her favorite medium. But she also draws portraits — with subjects other than waitresses and hairdressers — and loves landscapes and anime.

Her brother even has a “large tattoo” that she drew.

“I would love to continue doing art in college as a major,” she said. “I’ve been looking at [Savannah College or Art and Design]. That’s really my top choice. I’ve been trying to get into it, so I’ve just been trying to keep my grades high.”

Click here to visit the contest page where you can Elisa's entry.  You have until Dec. 31 to vote for a Fan’s Choice Award winner.

Kevin Sparks, Elisa’s father, said the winner will be chosen in the first week of January.