by Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- If every picture is worth a thousand words, the artwork seven-year-old Maurianna Morris creates is worth two more -- end cancer.
The bright-eyed blonde is channeling her inner Picasso for a cause close to her family. She's selling artwork to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, driven to support the mission of finding a cure for cancer after losing her father to the disease.
"My dad had cancer and he went to heaven," Maurianna said, explaining why she wished to sell her artwork for the American Cancer Society.
Lindsey Morris, Maurianna's mother, said the fundraising efforts came about after a bedtime conversation where her daughter asked how she could help to make cancer go away.
"She didn't want any other children to lose their daddy, either," Ms. Morris said.
Maurianna was two years old when her father, Sam Morris, lost his two-year battle with brain cancer in January 2008 at the age of 27. An obituary for Mr. Morris stated he considered his family his "first love" and enjoyed spending time with Maurianna, who was his only child.
"He fought hard and loved big," Ms. Morris said. "It only made sense to continue to model that behavior to (Maurianna). I didn't want her to lose him in her heart."
The loss of her father led Maurianna to do everything she could to help end cancer, even selling her own swing set to raise money for the American Cancer Society. But it's her art that has generated most of the attention.
Ms. Morris set up a blog called Mauri's World in June as an outlet for Maurianna to sell her art. Paintings of playground scenes, boats and cancer awareness ribbons with captions such as "fight," "hope" and "brave" are spotlighted on the blog, which also features photographs of Maurianna with her father.
Maurianna sells the paintings for $20 each; she also designs bookmarks, which she sells for $3 to $5 apiece. She's sold $250 worth of art since starting the blog, with 100 percent of the money donated to the society in her father's name.
That caught the interest of the local branches of the American Cancer Society and its main fundraising arm, Relay For Life, which puts together events in numerous communities throughout the country that celebrate what those affected by cancer have overcome.
"When I learned about Mauri and what she was doing to raise money for Relay For Life, I was so moved," said Leslie Castillo, unit executive director of the society's Volusia-Flagler unit. "We are all touched by Mauri's spirit and she is truly an inspiration for all."
Last week Maurianna was a guest speaker at a Port Orange Relay For Life team party, a meeting of the teams participating in the relay event, scheduled for April 20 at The Pavilion at Port Orange. In her speech, Maurianna told a story about when she and her parents participated in Relay For Life in 2007. During the event Mr. Morris lost his prized "Super Dad" hat, which he enjoyed wearing all the time. When Relay For Life volunteers discovered the hat some time later, Maurianna said, they returned it to the family.
Ms. Morris said the "Super Dad" hat was "something cancer couldn't take away" from her husband.
"It meant so much to have her and her mom there, to speak about their first experience with Relay when Sam was still alive," said Cheryl Shaw, event chair of Port Orange Relay For Life.
But it wasn't all stories. Maurianna also used the meeting as an outlet to put some of her latest artwork up for sale, including a mini-birdhouse. She said about 10 people bought artwork from her so far, including Ms. Shaw, who bought one of the cancer awareness ribbon paintings.
Maurianna's work has proven inspirational for Relay For Life participants. One of them, Joey Miller, described her as "an angel on earth" and said she shows people how to take a tragic experience and turn it into something positive in hopes to make it stop.
"At seven years old, most kids are worried about playing with toys and watching cartoons," he said. "She's fighting and fundraising to help find a cure for cancer. She embodies everything that Relay is all about. She is motivation for all those involved to make us want to fight harder and I hope she will inspire others who haven't experienced Relay to give it a shot."
Maurianna's efforts have also proven inspiring for her own mother.
"I am so proud that I am the mom of such a thoughtful and caring child," Ms. Morris said. "Her big heart and dreams push me to be a better person."
For more information on Maurianna Morris and her artwork benefiting the American Cancer Society, visit www.maurisworld.com or contact Lindsay Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org.