Springfield artist with autism raises over $1,500 for Look Park’s Christenson Zoo 

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  • Ben Brodecki, left, of Springfield and Look Park Christenson Zoo zookeeper Michael Furman look over paintings Brodecki is making and selling to benefit the zoo, where he’s been volunteering for around four years. Photographed in Florence on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Brodecki of Springfield removes a stencil while demonstrating the process he uses for the paintings he sells to benefit the Look Park Christenson Zoo. Photographed at the zoo in Florence on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Brodecki, right, of Springfield helps Look Park Christenson Zoo zookeeper Michael Furman clear brush from a recent storm on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Brodecki, right, of Springfield helps Look Park Christenson Zoo zookeeper Michael Furman clear brush from a recent storm, Wednesday in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Brodecki of Springfield helps clear brush at the Look Park Christenson Zoo in Florence while volunteering on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Brodecki, of Springfield, is selling his paintings to benefit the Look Park Christenson Zoo in Florence, where he’s been volunteering for around four years. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Brodecki, 28, of Springfield, has been volunteering at the Look Park Christenson Zoo for around four years, usually in a community engagement program with others from Sunshine Village in Chicopee. The pandemic has put a hold on those group visits, but in the meantime Brodecki has learned a painting style and is selling his paintings to benefit the zoo. Photographed at the zoo in Florence on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Brodecki, left, of Springfield and Look Park Christenson Zoo zookeeper Michael Furman walk Buddy, a 4-year-old Nubian goat, during a morning of volunteering by Brodecki at the zoo in Florence on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Melinda Brodecki and her son Ben, 28, of Springfield talk about his work volunteering at the Look Park Christenson Zoo and the paintings he’s been selling to benefit the zoo in Florence on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Brodecki, left, of Springfield and Look Park Christenson Zoo zookeeper Michael Furman look over paintings Brodecki is making and selling to benefit the zoo where he’s been volunteering for around four years. Photographed in Florence on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer 
Published: 8/24/2020 3:01:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Ben Brodecki, a 28-year-old man from Springfield with autism, has sold more than a hundred paintings since June. And through these sales, he has raised about $1,500 for the Christenson Zoo at Look Memorial Park, where he has been a volunteer for the past four years through Sunshine Village in Chicopee — a day program for adults with special needs. 

Brodecki said his style of art is called “hot mess painting,” which features abstract art on canvas over which silhouettes of various animals are composed.

“I make hot mess paintings of silhouettes of animals to sell, and then I make money to donate to the Look Park Zoo, so they can build new enclosures,” he said. 

Melinda Brodecki, Ben’s mother, said her son has volunteered with groundskeeping at the Christenson Zoo, where he’s gotten to know all the animals that live there, including two peacocks, Ringo and Paul, named after the surviving members of The Beatles. 

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the zoo shut down, and the Sunshine Village program suspended in-person volunteer work, she said. 

“He’s been home doing remote services with this program, but it’s something that fills his time and is rewarding to him,” Melinda Brodecki said of his painting. “And that way, he felt the connection to the zoo as well.” 

Brodecki said the painting fundraiser would continue as long as Ben wants to keep it going. He has sold most of his paintings via Etsy, but continues to paint more every week. 

Ben Brodecki said he’s been happy with the feedback from patrons purchasing his artwork for the fundraiser.

“So many people and places are impacted with the situation with COVID, and if we can be kind and help each other and take the initiative to reach out and support one another right now, I think it’s important,” Melinda Brodecki said. “Ben’s got that strong attachment with the zoo, and he felt like he really wanted to help them. On my end, it’s been a positive experience just seeing how happy and proud he is of himself.”

Danielle Brown, development director at Look Memorial Park, said despite the zoo being closed, the animals that live there still need to be supported.

“Basically, the animals require the same level of care whether or not we have visitors coming to the zoo,” she said. “They need to be fed and cleaned. That area of the park needs to be taken care of. Having funding for it has been especially nice during these tough times.” 

She added that after hearing about Ben Brodecki’s fundraising efforts, a local area woman dropped off a check for the zoo. 

“Every dollar matters for a small nonprofit park like ours,” Brown said. “And so, Ben’s generosity has not only been great for the park, but inspired other people.” 

Mike Furman has been a zookeeper at Christenson Zoo for the past four years since retiring as a graphics teacher at Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School in Northampton, where he taught for 24 years. His love of animals led him to become a zookeeper. 

He has worked with Ben Brodecki during most of his time at the zoo and was happily surprised when he learned about the fundraiser. 

“It’s great that Ben took it on himself actually to do the fundraising,” he said. “It just speaks volumes about what Ben is doing, and I really appreciate it as a zookeeper. And he’s not only someone doing a fundraiser, he’s a good friend like all the other Sunshine Village guys. They’re not just workers here.” 

Furman said Christenson Zoo is more of animal sanctuary because 90% of the animals that reside there cannot be released back into the wild. The zoo is home to three deer, six goats, a hawk, a pair of owls, two rabbits, a turkey vulture, two turkeys and two peacocks. 

Ben Brodecki said his favorite animal at the zoo is a Nubian goat named Buddy, but he knows all the animals by name.  

“I’ve known him since he was little, and now he’s gotten big,” Brodecki said of goat Buddy. 

The funds that he has raised will be used for maintenance and repairs at the zoo as well as for the animals. 

“Within a three day span, three huge oak branches fell off a tree right by the goat pen, and it broke eight of the split-rail fences,” Furman said. “Other money goes towards getting little things for the animals, either heated water bowls or fixing their huts or getting them a treat food.” 

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com. For more information about Ben Brodecki’s fundraiser, visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/bens-hot-mess-painting-fundraiser-for-the-zoo-in-look-park-104172504686967. Brodekci’s paintings are available to view or buy at etsy.com/shop/benspainting. 


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