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How Jeanne Has Made A Difference

The "Art by Jeanne" Benefit Trust was created to keep the spirit of Jeanne Vanderbeek Downey, the beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend to so many alive. Jeanne had a passion for art, she spent the later part of her life sharing that passion with children through art classes taught in her home and volunteering in the Clinton Township School Districts Gallery Time art program. It was a goal of Jeanne's to teach children the cathartic benefits of art. Hopefully this trust will enable school districts to help make Jeanne's goal a reality.  

May 28, 2024


Brigitte Gil, our 2024 Scholarship Awardee with Tracie Bruno and John Downey.


Brigitte Gil's Self Portrait

Congratulations to Brigitte Gil, as the 2024 recipient of the "Art By Jeanne" Scholarship!  To learn more about Brigitte and her accomplishments at North Bergen High School, please read this letter written by Brigitte's art teacher, Piera Di Giulio.


It is my pleasure to recommend Brigette Gil for the Downey Family Scholarship. Over the past few years of instructing Brigitte in Basic Drawing, Advanced Drawing, Mixed Media, and Art Honors, she has demonstrated herself to be a very talented and dedicated art student with creative potential.

Brigette possesses a deep understanding of the elements and principles of art, which she applies in her thoughtful and imaginative drawings, designs, and mixed media pieces. Her works showcase unique perspectives, good technique, and her ability to communicate complex ideas through visual mediums. Brigette actively seeks feedback to constantly strengthen her artistic abilities and her perseverance to perfect her craft is truly admirable. She has won honorable mention in both the NASA Poster Contest and the Scholastic Art Award. She has received a judges award for teen arts. 

In addition to her artistic talent, Brigette has proven herself to be hardworking, patient, passionate, and creative. It is always a delight to see the enthusiasm and joy Brigette derives from the artistic process. I am confident she will thrive in a college environment that nurtures her creativity.

Brigitte will be attending FDU in September. She has demonstrated a keen interest in pursuing graphic design, visual communication, and marketing careers. Her retail work ethic provides real-world knowledge that will prove valuable. Brigette's ultimate goal of obtaining a BFA and working as a graphic designer or magazine designer is very attainable given her talents.

In closing, Brigette Gil possesses the artistic abilities, creativity, work ethic, and passion that will see her through to a prosperous career in college and the art field of her choosing.

Piera Di Giulio
Art Teacher - North Bergen High School

May 31, 2018

The "Art by Jeanne" benefit trust will be awarding an annual scholarship to a North Bergen HS senior who will be pursuing a post-secondary education in the arts.  The first Annual Art by Jeanne scholarship has been awarded to Ashley Then Ovalle.  Ashley is a student at North Bergen High School (Jeanne’s alma mater).  Ashely will be attending Parsons, majoring in Art.  Congratulations Ashely!

May 30, 2023

Congratulations to Jazzlynn Vargas, as the 2023 recipient of the "Art By Jeanne" Scholarship!  To learn more about Jazzlynn and her accomplishments at North Bergen High School, please read this letter written by Jazzlynn's art teacher, Steven Defendini.


One of the privileges of being a teacher is the ability to watch students solidify into the kind of person they will be for the rest of their lives. I have one particular student whom has been an absolute central figure in the art department these past four years. Jazzlynn Vargas is a graduating senior on her way to Montclair State University to pursue a Bachelors in Art and a second degree in Art Education.

Over the course of her time in our department, Jazzlynn has participated in every art show and production we have had. Just this year we put on a stage show of “The Greatest Showman” and Jazzlynn was in school so much, it became a running joke that she lives in the classroom.

There was a moment earlier this year where Jazzlynns true character shone it’s brightest. Jazzlynn, CJ, Mrs. Sapoff and myself participated in a sustainability Fashion contest where we were picked top 10 in the US. We were subsequently flown out to AbuDhabi. Thirty minutes before show time, we were disqualified, along with 2 other teams, for circumstances completely out of our control. To say it was a harrowing moment is an understatement as our morals and character were being challenged. Upon hearing the news, Jazzlynns first priority was to make sure CJ was okay. He was the center of what was happening, and she showed a level of empathy uncommon amongst her peers.

Jazzlynn has been my go to helper all year. To call her an “assistant” would be an understatement for the value she brings to our department. I find it difficult to properly sum up the level of integrity Jazzlynn has for herself and others. It brings me great joy to know she will move that spirit toward the next generation of learners. She has a passion for creativity and a genuine sense of self that will allow her to carry that creative torch forward.

Steven Defendini
Art Teacher/ Art Director North Bergen High School


May 27, 2022


Congratulations to Bee Otero, as the 2022 recipient of the "Art By Jeanne" Scholarship!  To learn more about Bee and her accomplishments at North Bergen High School, please read this letter written by Bee's art teacher, Steven Defendini.


Bee Otero is a student who has attended North Bergen High School for the past four years. Over that time, they have displayed a very dedicated enthusiasm to the arts and pursuing a career in the arts. Polite, respectful, kind and hair full of colors, Bee passionately has spent all their time outside of class practicing on refining their skills.


Bee has interest in pursuing a career in animation as they value all of the current films that have been put out by Pixar, Blue Sky Studio, Illumination and Laika Studios.


In the fall, Bee will be attending Montserrat College of Art and has a plan in place to graduate and apply for a job at one of those mentioned companies. If we are all lucky, we can see a film with all the hard work Bee has put in over the years.


Bee is one of those quiet, kind spirits you meet only every once in a while, and I am so excited to see what the future holds in store for them.

Bee Otero, 2022 Scholarship Awardee.

June 11, 2021

Congratulations to Kimberly Madera, as the 2021 recipient of the "Art By Jeanne" Scholarship!  To learn more about Kimberly and her accomplishments at North Bergen High School, please read this letter written by Kimberly's art teacher, Piera DiGiulio.

I first met Kimberly when she began sitting in on my Basic Drawing class during her free time from the school year of 2017 to 2018. She enrolled in my Advanced Drawing class from 2018-2019, my art Honors class from 2019-2020 and finally my Advanced Painting class senior year. During this time I witnessed her growth and development.

Kimberly manages her time well and has a strong work ethic. She is always sketching and applies the elements and principles of design to form many creative ideas. She is not afraid to ask questions and she utilizes constructive criticism to improve on her work. North Bergen High school was virtual from March 2020 until mid April; yet during these difficult times, Kimberly continued to motivate herself. She took initiative by buying her own supplies and regularly sent photos of her artwork for critique. She is now coming back to school with a sketchbook always in hand.

During her high school career, Kimberly participated in the Art Club, Drama Club and Math Club. She won several art awards which include The NASA Langley Student Art Contest-3rd place two times for the 10th grade and 12th grade category, the AAA Traffic Safety Poster Contest-2nd place grades 9-12 category, and The North Bergen Fire Prevention Poster contest held by the NBFD. In her spare time, Kimberly enjoys drawing, writing, reading, and playing guitar.

I am very proud of her.

Piera DiGiulio


Featured from left to right: Piera DiGiulio, Kimberly Madera and Mr. Steven Defendini.

May 28, 2020

Jaylin Duchesne.jpg

The recipient of this years "Art by Jeanne" Scholarship, is the very talented Jaylin Duchesne of North Bergen High School. Jaylin has received accolades from her art teacher, Mr. Steven Defendini, who shared his admiration of Jaylin's journey with the school's production of Alien:The Play, where she was the lead designer of the amazing costumes, creator of the elaborate backdrops, and even a puppeteer performer in the show.  Please check out Mr. Defendini's Scholarship recommendation letter of Jaylin Duchesne.

Congratulations Jaylin!


But wait...there's more!

Due to the enormous popularity of this production and the 3 million hits from the viral video of opening night, North Bergen held an Encore performance on Friday, April 26th, 2020, and there was a VERY special member in the audience.  Can you guess who?

Read more about the critical acclaim of North Bergen's Alien:The Play  and the Encore performance experience on

What an incredible accomplishment Jaylin!  We wish you all the best as you continue your journey at Montclair University in their filmmaking program.  

Featured from left to right: Jaylin Duchesne and Mr. Steven Defendini.

May 29, 2019

Congratulations to Jesse Angel, as the 2019 recipient of the "Art by Jeanne" scholarship!  Jesse is attending New Jersey City University and is majoring in Art. During her time at North Bergen High School, Jesse has has achieved the following accomplishments:

  • Completed Pre summer Program at Montserrat School of Art in Massachusetts (Animation and Illustration)

  • Designed NBHS Yearbook Cover

  • Teen Arts Award 2019 for 3 drawings

  • Honorable Mention for Drawing for Go Green Campaign

  • Donated drawings to two local community organizations

jesse angel -  jeanne vanderbeek  downey
jesse angel plaque.jpg

Jesse Angel pictured with Art teacher, Steven Defendini. 

This year’s recipient of the "Art by Jeanne" scholarship is Desiree Chavez.  Desiree is a student at North Bergen High School. She will be attending The School of Visual Arts in NYC in September, studying computer animation.  Her art teachers say she is extremely talented with a bright future ahead of her.  She will be using the scholarship to help her with supplies.  Congratulations Desiree!


Pictured from left to right:  Michelle Mortoral and Desiree Chavez.  Picture courtesy of Tracie Bruno.

May 14, 2018

After presenting our first "Art by Jeanne" grant to the Clinton Township School District, the Art Educators of Clinton Township School District wanted to create a work of art with their students that would be an educational and lasting legacy. They decided to create four mosaic panels featuring trees in four seasons, representing growth through learning and the seasons of life. Students in each of the four district schools worked with their art teachers to design and create the 4' high mosaics. Spruce Run School created "Spring" under the direction of Laura Evans, Patrick McGaheran School created "Summer" under the direction of Kelly DiGioia, Round Valley School created "Fall" under the direction of Patrick Gugliandolo, and Clinton Township Middle School created "Winter" under the direction of Chelsey Lindaberry. The image of a red cardinal appears in each mosaic as a symbol of Jeanne Downey's life. Work on the "Downey Mosaics", as they came to be known, launched the idea of an "Inspiration gARTen," which is currently under construction in the Clinton Township Middle School courtyard. Special thanks and appreciation to Michele Cone, Diane Cormican and Michelle Mayhood for their assistance and support.


Photo's Courtesy of ASCreations

October 20, 2017

On Wednesday, October 20, 2017, the Vanderbeek and Downey families presented the 3rd Annual "Art by Jeanne" Benefit Trust grant to the Annandale, NJ Immaculate Conception High School Art Department. Accepting the grant was Principal David Stone. The grant was awarded with the stipulation that it would be used to enhance art programs.


Pictured from left to right:  Ray Korbobo, Caitlyn Downey, Jack Downey, Judy Vanderbeek, Olivia Bruno, Tracie Bruno, Sammi Downey, David Stone, John Downey.  Photo Courtesy of ASCreations.

June 1, 2017

ashley copy.jpg

Pictured from left to right: Michelle Martoral and Ashley Than Ovalle.

November 1, 2016

Jazzlynn Vargas and Steven Defendini


The family of Jeanne Vanderbeek Downey would like to thank the Union County Magnet High School faculty for their donation to the "Art by Jeanne" Benefit Trust.  The faculty at the Magnet High School in Scotch Plains, NJ donated their October proceeds from their monthly Jeans Day collection.  We appreciate their kindness and appreciate their support.

October 19, 2016

On Wednesday, October 19, 2016, the Vanderbeek and Downey familes presented the 2nd Annual "Art by Jeanne" Benefit Trust grant to the North Bergen High School Art Department. Accepting the grant were Mayor Nick Sacco and Board of Education President Luis Rabelo. The grant was awarded with the stipulation that it would be used to enhance art programs in the district.

Pictured from left to right: Mayor Nick Sacco, Board of Education President Luis Rabelo, Judi Vanderbeek, Tracie Bruno, Coleen Vanderbeek, Olivia Bruno, Marie Feeney, Sammi Downey, John Downey, Jack Downey and Caitlyn Downey. 

October 26, 2015

On Monday, October 26, 2015, the "Art by Jeanne" Benefit Trust presented its first annual grant to the Clinton Township School District's board of education. The grant was presented by the Downey family; John, Caitlyn, Samantha and Jack, to Board President Maria Grant and Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Drucilla W. Clark.  The grant was awarded with the stipulation that it would be used to enhance art programs in the district.

Pictured from left to right: Sammi Downey, Jack Downey, Board President Maria Grant, John Downey, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Drucilla W. Clark, and Caitlyn Downey. Picture Courtesy of ASCreations.

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