Teen Artist’s Legacy Lives on Through Endowment

DUBUQUE – Allison Cress’s legacy refuses to quit.

“Her spirit is alive and well,” said Sara Hilby, an art teacher at Dubuque Hempstead High School.

It only seems fitting for the teenager who embodied resilience, battling cancer for her entire senior year, determined to graduate from her high school.

The Dubuque Hempstead student’s inspirational story made national headlines almost a year ago when the 18 year-old crossed the stage at graduation just days before passing away from cancer.

But despite passing away last June, Allison’s spirit continues to live on through the passion that fueled her life: art.

“It gave her a voice to be able to share what she was excited about, what she was concerned about,” said Sara Hilby, an art teacher at Hempstead.

Allison’s passion became a legacy when Allison’s mother and stepfather, Holly and Rafic Sinno, started the Allison Cress Endowment for Art Education shortly after Allison’s passing.

“She’s an empowering spirit,” said Rafic Sinno, “and that’s what this fund means. It means to empower.”

Holly and Rafic met with Jennifer Klinkhammer, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Dubuque Public Schools, last June to find out what could be done to carry on Allison’s legacy.

“I didn’t realize how positive they would be,” said Klinkhammer.

An art education endowment was the perfect answer. Once fully funded, the endowment will provide the Hempstead art program with new graphic design software, 3-D art supplies, cameras, and other materials.

“They really liked that idea because it would support a lot of students…They weren’t just thinking about Allison in the present, they were thinking about Allison in the future and saying, ‘This is what she would want.’”

Holly and Rafic Sinno couldn’t agree more.

“Allison would just be…she would just have this huge smile,” said Rafic Sinno, with a huge smile of his own.

But Holly and Rafic didn‘t just quit after starting the endowment. They wanted to actively contribute to the fundraising, knowing that true masterpieces take effort: a lesson they learned from Allison.

The surprising answer was a simple product most people use every day.

“Three of my kids have Eczema, so we started making soap on our own and seeing the difference in their skin conditions, and then after Allison passed away…we were trying to think of different ways to raise money for this fund,” said Holly Sinno.

Together, the Sinnos started Suds and Dreams, a homemade soap business. Holly and Rafic make bars of soap from scratch and give 100% of the profit to the endowment.

“You can only ask the same people so many times for a donation, but if we have this product that people like, they’ll keep coming back and they’ll keep donating.”

The Sinnos’ business has taken off, with an online store and Facebook page. They also sell their soaps at kiosks in the mall and craft shows throughout the tri-state area. During the Christmas season alone, they were able to bring in $1,000 from sales to donate to the endowment.

“There was a craft to what she did,” said Rafic Sinno, “and we take that same spirit in making the soaps.”

Holly and Rafic want future students to be able to find freedom of expression through art. They knew that’s what Allison loved about the creative process.

“To me, Allison is still here and she’s still with us. She’s never left…That’s why this endowment means so much to us. Because we believe that the human arts give us a way to connect not only within ourselves but with others,” said Rafic Sinno.

Hilby, Allison’s favorite teacher, couldn’t agree more that the fund will undeniably carry on the life of the teenage artist.

“She loved The Legend of Zelda, which is a video game,…and it was kind of cool because…with this endowment, we’re kind of doing ‘The Legend of Allison’…She will continue to impact future students and be able to have them find their gift and their voice in the arts.”

Allison’s legacy is her magnum opus: a work of art far from over.

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The Allison Cress Endowment for Art Education is currently at $6,500, but the endowment can’t distribute any of the funds until it reaches the $10,000 mark. To make a donation to the endowment or simply to learn more about Allison’s story, click here. To donate to the fund through a purchase from Suds and Dreams, click here.

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