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Blackfoot teen garners top honors in Paint the State competition

Idaho State Journal, Aug. 22, 2010

BLACKFOOT — Heather Callister wasn't able to make it to the awards banquet so she was searching the Internet trying to discover who won the Idaho Meth Project's Paint the State competition when she got a call on her cell phone.

She didn't recognize the number. Of course, she doesn't get many calls from the state's capital.

"It was first lady Lori Otter," she said. "I thought, ‘Why are you calling my cell phone?'"

Otter called Callister to tell her the news in person. Her contest entry won two awards: The First Lady's Choice Award and first place among Bingham County's entries, and garnered a combined $2,000 in prize money.

"It was awesome," she said. "(Lori Otter) said she really liked what I had written about my picture; it touched her and she was appreciative of what I said."

Callister, 19, entered an original painting in the state-wide contest that encourages teens to use their talents to help fight meth. She painted a picture of a little girl being taken away from her family and included the words, "What are you willing to lose?" to illustrate the impacts meth has not only on users, but those who love them.

She came up with the idea after learning that drug abuse, particularly meth, plays a role in most of the child placement cases handled by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

"There are little children being taken from families because of this drug," she said. "You always see (meth users) leaving, but you don't see how it affects those left behind." With the help of her brother, Orson Pratt Callister III, she painted the image on a boxcar belonging to the Snake River School District, which also supplied the paint for Callister's project. She said it took them several days to complete it.

"It was a marathon," she said, adding she only got a few hours of sleep each night and spent the rest of the time working on the painting. "We worked about 20 hours a day."

Callister also spent hours researching her topic and was shocked by what she learned. For instance, ingredients including bleach, laundry detergent and gasoline can be used to make meth.

"Things we were taught from when we were children never to put into our system are being put into this drug; it's so harmful," she said. She hopes her painting, which is still on display near Snake River Junior High, will have a lasting impact on those who see it. "(Meth) is an issue here in Idaho and people need to realize that and take a stand," she said.