Tracy Alaia believes that humans have something in common with the stars – each one, human or celestial, is unique and beautiful in its own way.

That idea suggested a theme for a benefit event she’s hosting at her downtown Irwin business, Feathers Artist Market and Gifts.

Alaia is inviting people to make star-themed paintings that will be auctioned off in September, with proceeds going to Come, Talk Inc., an Irwin-based nonprofit that provides free resources for people affected by suicide.

“I’m constantly trying to do things to give back to the community and I love helping local nonprofits,” Alaia said. “Mental health resources are so valuable, especially now.”

Come, Talk Inc. was founded in April 2021 by Irwin resident Amanda Morrison as a safe place and resource center for people affected by all aspects of suicide, including those who have thought about or attempted suicide, people who are worried about a loved one, and people who know someone who has thought about, attempted, or died by suicide.

The organization has office space at the Norwin Chamber of Commerce at 321 Main St., Irwin.

Morrison said when she left the job at the end of 2020, “I wanted to do something meaningful and useful for the community. This idea just came to me.”

Suicide was a subject close to her heart. A cousin and a high school friend had both died by suicide, and an aunt had survived an attempt but later died of cancer.

“My aunt told me that if she’d had someone to talk to — a neutral party, not family or friends — she wouldn’t have made the effort,” Morrison said. “I’ve read so many case studies that say the same thing. People just need someone to talk to.”

Come on, Talk Inc. offers one-on-one center visits, print and electronic support materials, local counselor names, small group meetings, support groups, guest speaker events, self-care classes, and other community outreach programs.

“It’s very important to me that everything is free,” Morrison said. “I don’t want the cost to be a barrier for anyone who needs help. We rely on sponsorships, grants and fundraisers like what Tracy is doing.”

The painting event is “a fun way to raise funds,” said Morrison, who contributed a painting of the constellation Capricornus in memory of her aunt.

Anyone interested in making a painting for the auction can stop by Feathers, at 104 4th St., to pick up a canvas for $3. Participants can paint on site for a $3 fee at the studio or take the canvas home to complete and return by August 30.

Canvases vary in size, but most are 8-by-8 inches or 11-by-14 inches.

Painters of all skill levels and ages are welcome to participate, said Alaia, who noted that two siblings, ages 2 and 4, contributed glitter-covered creations.

The paintings will hang in the Feathers gallery and visitors will be able to bid on them throughout September and during the store’s five-year anniversary celebration on October 1. Offers can be made in any quantity.

Alaia, who holds similar auctions for local nonprofits once or twice a year, said it’s unusual for any work to go unsold. In one case, she had some leftovers which were then donated to a local nursing facility.

The benefits of such an event go beyond just helping the featured nonprofit.

“I like being a part of bringing people together,” she said. “One boy said he liked that he could do something small to help others.”

Giving people a creative outlet can also have lasting effects.

“I give people an idea to get started and they can be as creative as they want to be,” Alaia said. “Kids especially feel like real artists when they see their work displayed on the wall in a real gallery.”

Prospective painters can stop by Feathers from 10:30am-4pm Monday-Tuesday and Saturday, 10:30am-7pm Wednesday-Friday or 11:30am-3pm on Sundays. For more information, call 412-930-1954 or visit

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can reach Shirley by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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