Noreen Ayonayon's artistic talents helped her escape a life of poverty. And now, the 25-year-old woman is using her skill to save others living in squalor and in desperate need of hope.
Growing up in south Phoenix, there were many days when Ayonayon's family had no food or electricity.
"A lot of the advice that I got growing up was not good advice," Ayonayon said. "It was like, 'You're poor, you can make easy money doing this (or that).' So it got me into a lot of trouble and I thought that was what the world was about. It was, like, negative and nobody looking out for each other.
"So I was really angry for a long time," she said
She said her anger lasted years, until a friend handed her an artist's kit.
"Once I picked up a brush, I could just do it," Ayonayon said.
From pop art at a teenager to tattooing to pay the bills, Ayonayon's talents are paying off.
[See examples of Ayonayon's work on the Illegal Ink Tattoo & Piercing Facebook page]
Her work is sought after by galleries from all over, curators are amazed at the complexity shown by such a young artist in her works.
"The only reason I was given those gifts is so that I could give back to those kids that are in my same situation that don't have positive advice coming to them or don't see a future," Ayonayon said.
At Ayonayon's urging, her network of tattoo clients regularly donates clothes, uniforms and shoes to families in their neighborhood.
"Everywhere I go now, this is all people want to talk about, like, 'How we can help the community more?"
Almost weekly, Ayonayon can be found in Nogales, helping build homes for people living in shacks with no electricity or water.
She creates something from nothing in the dirt, and then tells the story of desperate need on a blank canvas.
"I mean, they didn't even have electric out there to work any tools with," said friend and client Sherril Froggatt. "They had to do everything by hand. She's just, she's a remarkable person."
Froggatt thought it was time someone told Ayonayon's story, so she asked CBS 5 to pay it forward to Ayonayon.
"With all your warmth and compassion, I've seen you give hope for a better tomorrow to families that had nothing yesterday. That's why I want to pay it forward by giving you 500 dollars," Froggatt said.
The gesture caught Ayonayon by surprise. "What? Thank you, Sherril."
The money couldn't have come at a better time.
NANA, the nonprofit she works through, was recently robbed and the money will go toward the purchase of more building supplies.
But Ayonayon's ultimate goal is to turn an open lot next to her new tattoo parlor into a positive community space.
"That's all I needed when I was a kid, for somebody to come and plant a seed of hope in me," Ayonayon
"It's only right that I give back, I have to give back."
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