Remembering Sally Sasz

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In 2018, Sally Sasz and Chandler Simpson were rockstar summer interns at Thrive Collective from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Vivacious, fun, reliable, extraordinarily talented, and insatiably curious, their lives overflowed with wonder and adventure. For two months they immersed themselves fully in New York City and the life of Thrive, working on 10+ murals at schools, community spaces, and art festivals in four boroughs. Sally’s signature project was co-designing and painting the interactive white board map in the conference room at our offices at the Harlem Hub.

[Photos: Chandler Simpson & Jeremy Del Rio]

Yesterday, Chandler called with devastating news. Sally tragically died this week in a hiking accident in Utah, her bright, radiant light snuffed out way to soon.

On behalf of all of us in New York whose lives are enriched to this day by the beauty you created during your time at Thrive, we love you, Sally, and will cherish the memories we made together. To Sally’s family and friends, our hearts and prayers are with you as you mourn and celebrate Sally’s sensational life.

For more, visit Chandler’s moving reflections here.

Below is a beautiful essay Sally wrote about her summer at Thrive that she sent us on July 15, 2018. We will miss her radiant light indeed.

My name is Sally Sasz, and I am a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from Charlotte, NC. For the past eight weeks, I worked as a summer intern for Thrive Collective. Coming into the experience, I did not really know what to expect. I discovered Thrive through internet searches for art-service organizations in New York City, and Thrive immediately caught my eye. In addition to my long-time love for studio art, I also resonated with the mission to “Bring Art Back” into schools across the city as I have been working on a similar project teaching art and art history in middle schools during my first year at UNC Chapel Hill. Thrive strives to provide all students with the opportunity to create despite the lack of art programs in schools, and the opportunity pushed me to come to New York for the summer.

Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised when I showed up at the Harlem Hub for my first day in early May. Although dressed in business casual attire, I was handed a smock and asked to start painting a mural in progress in the main room. Nevertheless, the next day and everyday thereafter I returned to work ready and excited to be covered in paint!

For the majority of my summer experience from May through July, I travelled to schools in all five boroughs across the city to help complete murals. I assisted the head artists in the actual transferring and painting of the murals, but my favorite part was working with the students and greater community to complete each work. Almost every day, several classes of students visited the mural to paint for a block of the school day. I most enjoyed working with these students, whether elementary, middle, or high school age. Although it sometimes proved to be a challenge to get them interested and excited to paint, I am so thankful for the opportunity to get to know and interact with them. We exchanged stories, aspirations, and advice. In some schools I was even able to practice my Spanish with students who recently immigrated to the US. In addition, I also really enjoyed working on Saturdays when mural painting opened to any and all community members. It was exciting to meet the parents, friends, family, and other volunteers from the area and to hear their comments and genuine excitement for the developing mural. The love and gratitude expressed by volunteers and passers-by made me even more passionate about the work I was doing.

On days that I wasn’t traveling to different schools across the city to work on painting and varnishing murals, I went to the Harlem Hub. The Hub is a new and growing space for Thrive; I loved how it is always alive with people, whether adults or students after school every afternoon. I watched the space come to life, from completing a mural in the main room to eventually having the opportunity to design and paint my own mural in Thrive’s main office. Painting a mural in the main office was a particularly exciting experience for me; I witnessed and participated in all the stages of mural development from brainstorming and sketching, to transferring, to painting, to varnishing, but I had never dreamed of creating a mural completely on my own. Designing a subtle color scheme to complement the grey wall, among other aspects, challenged me. Overall, however, I surprised myself with how much I have learned this summer. Each artist I worked with shared a little bit of their style and methods with me, and I was able to combine elements of each of them to create my own. The Thrive community is dynamic and extremely passionate about what they do; they are friendly and fun to work with but totally different from each other in the best possible way.

The work I did over the summer was exciting, creative, and meaningful. However, there are a few things that I think are important to understand going into the internship. First, the job encompasses significant hours both working and traveling; it was crucial for me to be flexible and patient. Each night I received a different assignment via Slack telling me when and where I had to go the next day. For instance, one day I might have to be in Far Rockaway at 8 am and the next I would be in the Bronx at 9 am. In addition to long hours, the job as an intern required me to work many Saturdays over the course of my eight weeks with Thrive. Painting murals in all five boroughs across the city also requires significant subway travel. Thus, it is important to learn how to navigate the subway; that being said, Google Maps became my best friend over the course of the summer! In addition, some of the areas where the schools are located are not the safest places to travel, especially alone. It is crucial to be aware of this ahead of time, map the most convenient route, and travel with a friend if possible.

The art of designing, painting, and working with students and the greater community to create a collaborative work of art are integral aspects of this summer experience that I hope to explore further after this summer. I was amazed by the incredible sense of unity and pride in every school that I visited. No one wanted to hide or change who they are; instead, they wanted to express it through a mural.

Ultimately, my experience at Thrive presented me with a unique opportunity to explore the city and have the opportunity to meet and interact with so many different people in it. Aside from several brief visits during the holidays to visit family in the past, I really had no idea what life in the city was like until now. My experience this summer has been a real one, but it has in no way disillusioned my perception of New York. Instead, it has made me love it even more.

Although I am sad to leave behind all of the adventures and friends I have made here, I am excited to keep in touch and follow Thrive’s progress in the future. I hope to take what I have learned, from working and communicating in a professional and friendly sphere, navigating a new city, planning and organizing events, and designing and conducting mural painting, back home to Charlotte, NC and on to college. Thank you so much for this opportunity; I am determined to continue to help Thrive’s influence to grow.


Sally Sasz

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