Our Mission:

How to Draw a Lion is an art education program founded to provide art classes for children in poverty, raise money for their education in shows around the world, and to create awareness about child welfare and conservation.   The program has taken shape around art classes for children in sub-Saharan Africa who ordinarily would not get to utilize their creative skills.   Each piece brings with it the spirit and personality of the child who created it and the sale of the work raises funds for the organizations that support their education. 

Why it works:

How to Draw a Lion is a full re-evaluation of the non-profit model in Africa.  We work together with a variety of Community-based organizations already on the ground, creating a multi-national network of partners all working toward the same goal - educating children and breaking the cycle of poverty from a grass roots level.  With an extremely low overhead, no offices, staff or administrative costs we are just an art class in a suitcase.  100% of donations go toward keeping that suitcase full.  By streamlining our focus we are able to have a maximum impact for the benefit of our partners, and create a sustainable model of art education and fundraising.

Who we are:

John Platt, Founder

John Platt was born and raised in New York City, immediately exposing a young artist to the worlds’ great capital of art and culture. Early visits to the Museum of Modern Art opened his mind to the possibilities of being a painter, a career path that took him to The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he graduated in 2007. Platt has established a reputation in contemporary art circles for realist portraiture and gestural abstractions and has exhibited his work around the globe.  In 2014 a visit to Tanzania would change everything for this artist, leading to the foundation of How to Draw a Lion.  The program has grown rapidly in the years since it's formation and continues to grow in new directions.  As of 2018 Platt has taught art to hundreds of kids in east Africa, working with 9 different NGOs across 3 countries

Michelle Russell, Board Chairman

Michelle "Miki" Russell has been a supporter of How to Draw a Lion since it's very first show. She has extensive experience working with vulnerable children and families in New York and East Africa; including at two of our partner organizations: The Small Things and Rift Valley Children's Village in Tanzania. Miki holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology from Loyola University and a Masters Degree in Social Work focusing on international policy and child welfare. Some of her favorite things include food, travel, dancing, and being an aunt.


Kathleen Lahey, Board Treasurer

Kathy is a Vice President in the Goldman Sachs Family Office based in New York City. The Goldman Sachs Family Office provides Multi-Family Office services for highest net worth client families, including income tax, philanthropic and estate planning, insurance and benefits planning, as well as retirement and cash flow planning.  Prior to joining Goldman Sachs, Kathy worked at Price Waterhouse as a Certified Public Accountant.  Kathy earned her MBA from Columbia University and graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting with a minor in Information Systems.   She, is a New York State Certified Public Accountant and has her NASD Series 7 and 63 certification as well as insurance licenses.  Kathy is a member of the Trust & Estate Committee at Rockefeller University, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants. Kathy serves on the IRS Policies & Practices Committee of the NYSSCPA.

Teressa Walsh, Board Member

Teressa is the Director of Development for The Small Things, an international NGO that operates in Nkoaranga, Tanzania and serves over 150 children and families. While pursuing her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology at Stony Brook University, she conducted independent research in the Meru District on challenges and gains of orphaned and vulnerable children in the developing world and has spent a significant period of time living and working in the East African region. She is particularly interested in supporting lean initiatives that work to build organizational capacity, as HTDL so effectively does. She has over 10 years of experience in relationship management, and worked in San Francisco where her she managed and scaled the user success team from the ground up before the company successfully partnered with airbnb.

Dr. Sophie Bellenis

Sophie Bellenis (b. 1988) is a pediatric occupational therapist from the North Shore of Massachusetts, who believes in art’s incredible power to help children develop their creativity, emotional regulation, and fine motor skills.  Initially brought to Tanzania by a joint love of working with children and travel, she landed at The Rift Valley Children’s Village.  Since then, she has spent much of the past five years providing education enrichment and occupational therapy services in this area.  In May of 2017, Sophie finished her doctoral work at the MGH Institute of Health Professions. This focused primarily on non-profit program evaluation and cultural competency at The Plaster House, a wonderful pediatric post-surgical rehabilitation home in Arusha, Tanzania. Sophie is currently working in a public school system in Massachusetts, and hopes to spend substantial portions of her vacation time traveling back to this area of the world that she loves so much.

Gabrielle Rechler, Board Member

Gabrielle Rechler was fortunate enough to volunteer at the Rift Valley Children’s Village in 2013. She then attended Marymount Manhattan College and received her BFA in Acting and her BA in Business with a concentration in arts management. After graduating summa cum laude in 2017, she worked in her alma mater’s Office of Institutional Advancement, where she focused on fundraising for the MMC’s Annual Fund, as well as helped develop the College’s Alumni Outreach program. Today, she is at the helm of her family’s foundation, Rechler Philanthropy, whose objective is to spearhead social, economic and environmental change on a local and global level.

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