Young Florida artist blossoms with love of grandparents, help from education choice scholarship

Lilly Bowden of Plant City, who is homeschooled by her mother, Debbie, receives funding for school supplies, including a computer and printer, books, a telescope and a microscope, through Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities.

PLANT CITY – Lilly Bowden flipped through her sketch pad and proudly showed off her work. There’s a fox on one page and a cat on another. A giraffe from the neck up and a mountain range in all its purple majesty.

One drawing begins on one side of a page and ends on the other, forming a U-shape. A snake? An eel?

“I have no idea what that is,” Lilly said.

More pages, more drawings. An armadillo. A seahorse. A seashell. A leaf. One page has a pineapple, a watermelon, and some grapes.

“It’s a still life,” Lilly said. “Kind of abstract.”

Lilly, 12, wants to be an artist, and she’s taking her first steps with the “Drawing Lessons for Beginners” DVD purchased with her education savings account that comes with the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities. Managed by Step Up For Students, (which hosts this blog) the ESA gives parents the ability to customize their child’s educational needs.

The money can be used for curriculum and education materials, therapies and medical specialists, tutors, and tuition to private schools.

“The scholarship has been such a blessing for us,” said Debbie Bowden, Lilly’s grandmother and legal guardian.

Lilly was born with pulmonary atresia with ventricular septal defect, a congenital heart disease that left her with one working ventricle. She’s had three reconstructive heart surgeries, one each year for three years beginning when she was 1.

When she was 5, a blood clot led to a stroke, which led to the diminished use of her right arm and hand.

She has a pacemaker. She has scoliosis and wears a back brace 20 hours a day. She has several allergies.

Because of Lily’s weakened heart, a minor cold can turn into pneumonia and land her in a hospital for two weeks. A growth spurt could place too much stress on her heart and prove deadly, Debbie said.

“With Lilly, we take it one day at a time. For everything that’s she’s got, she’s still a fighter. She’s lived a lot longer than they ever thought she would,” Debbie said.

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BY Roger Mooney

Roger Mooney is the marketing communications manager for Step Up For Students. He joined the organization after a career as a sports and features writer for several Florida newspapers, including the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times.