Printing a Legacy

On Oct. 24, 2013, Kelsie Rae Barger, an 18-year-old college freshman studying graphic design, was killed in a head-on collision. But through her art, her family, and her community, Kelsie’s legacy lives on.

After Kelsie’s death, her family knew they wanted to both spread Kelsie’s message and find a way to support other artistically-inclined students in the area. Thus began the Kelsie Rae Project, a Christian outreach organization and scholarship fund for local, aspiring art and design students. 

Kelsie’s stepmother, Crystal Barger, a project manager at Cincinnati-based promotional products company GAP Advertising, wanted to print shirts to raise money for the scholarship, so she worked with SanMar and a local printer to create official Kelsie Rae Project tees. The front of the tee features a self-portrait Kelsie drew, while the back features a church outreach flyer she had finished designing the day of her death. One hundred percent of the profits from the shirts went to the scholarship fund, which supported students in the arts.

The power of art

Kelsie’s artwork had always made an impact on others, which is how she became involved with designing the outreach flyer. One evening a few weeks before Kelsie’s accident, Crystal and her husband had a few friends from her church over for dinner. One of Kelsie’s drawings was hanging on the wall, and one of their friends asked who had drawn it. He had been working on an idea for a church outreach flyer. “He felt right then and there, after he saw that drawing, that Kelsie needed to do it,” says Crystal.

Kelsie agreed, and on the morning of her passing, she completed the flyer and emailed it to Crystal. That evening, with a house full of mourning friends and family members, Crystal opened the email. What she found was overwhelming. The flyer depicts a head-on car collision—how Kelsie was killed—and a gold line through the middle that, upon first glance, looks out of place. “I showed it to our church pastor, and he gasped,” says Crystal. The pastor had had a conversation with another church member two years prior about a new logo for the church. He wanted to depict a golden road going up to the church doors—just as Kelsie depicted.

The Kelsie Rae Project lives on

Crystal and her family continue to see the Kelsie Rae Project T-shirts around town, proving just how much Kelsie’s story and artwork resonates with their community. “When we do wear the T-shirts, it offers the opportunity to discuss Kelsie, the flyer she created, and the story behind it,” says Crystal. “When you wear the shirt, you’re a walking billboard of her story.”

Although the scholarship fund is no longer active, the Barger family continues to spread their message through a Facebook page, community events, and church outreach. “The thing about losing someone, especially a child, is it never gets easier,” says Crystal. “So whenever the opportunity presents itself, we like to tell Kelsie’s story.”

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