Ellen Rontal Portrait Hero Image Crop 2

People You Should Know

CHI Volunteer Ellen Rontal: Portrait Artist

A longtime volunteer and supporter of The Chicago Help Initiative, Ellen assists with the prep and serving at our Wednesday meals.

Ellen Rontal has been volunteering with The Chicago Help Initiative for the past 10 years. An artist by training, she has been creating powerful and moving portraits of some of the people who are guests at our Wednesday meals. Scroll down to see more of her work. As Ellen explains:

My husband and I moved to Chicago from Detroit 10 years ago so we could be closer to our daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. After living in the suburbs for 32 years, moving to downtown Chicago opened up a new world of big city life to me. The opportunity to get involved in the community became my priority, especially with the underprivileged sector of our society. I was introduced to The Chicago Help Initiative by my friend Judy Magill shortly after arriving.

Volunteering with CHI has enriched my life in so many ways, mainly through the people I’ve met, my fellow volunteers and the people we serve. While working in the kitchen and giving out meals, I developed relationships with the men and women who come for dinner. In the process I realized the powerful effect of the lonesomeness of poverty. This feeling created an idea to show others through art that these ‘faceless people,’ who are ignored on the streets, are individual, important human beings.

For me, this was a natural project for me to undertake. I have always been an artist, graduating the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting, working in commercial art, starting a greeting card company, and owning a Native American art gallery in Detroit for 15 years.

Through my pencil portraits, I want to focus on giving these homeless individuals a name and identity. In using pencil, I am able to use the nuance of line and shadow to gather an authenticity of emotion and personality.

My goal is to exhibit the drawings as a body of work to personalize a seminar addressing the ramifications of homelessness.”

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Did you know?

Over 85% of the people we serve are unemployed.

They help us with food, social services. Nothing but love, that’s how I feel about the Chicago Help Initiative.”