Arts-Kids Founder Got The Idea Walking On A Beach
December 13, 2013
Pat Drewry Sanger was walking on a beach in Virginia when the idea for Arts-Kids came to her. It was 1995, just a few months before she moved to Park City. "Suddenly I could see the entire program in my head," says the veteran clinical nurse specialist.` She envisioned a program aimed at using expressive arts to "create a joyful environment for self-expression." But another four years would pass before she was able to realize her dream. Arts-Kids, a Park City-based nonprofit organization, was created in 1997 to serve Summit County children and teenagers. The innovative program uses the expressive arts and group dynamics to help children and teenagers cope with the social, emotional and economic challenges they often face.
The decision to work with kids was easy for Sanger. Growing up in Alexandria, Virginia, her mother was in the hospital for an extended period of time. "I was lucky that I had loving grandparents and extended family to take care of me," she says. "But I was still lonely and felt like I was different. It had a deep impact on me. I think that’s why I have a real empathy for children," she explains.
Sanger took a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Duke University and a master’s from Virginia Commonwealth. She is a licensed Advanced Practice Clinical Nurse and clinical therapist. She’s been a steadfast advocate for children and young adults throughout her professional career. "I’ve made it my personal mission statement to do everything I can to help people fulfill their potential," she says.
After college, Sanger married her high school sweetheart, who went on to become a Navy pilot. She lived in Lemoore, Calif., from 1967 to 1973 while her husband was stationed in Vietnam. Two of their three children were born in California. Their third child was born in Virginia Beach, Va., where they moved after the war. All grown now, they are scattered across the country: Scott, in New York; Derek, in North Carolina; and Stephanie, in Idaho. She’s also a proud grandmother and laments the distance that separates her from her six grandchildren.
Sanger credits her seven years in California with a fateful discovery — the Sierra Mountains. "I found solace, peace and clarity there and decided someday I would live in the mountains," she says.
She worked for mental health agencies in the Virginia Beach area and maintained a private practice for many years. In nearby Norfolk, she worked extensively with single mothers and their children. She began to use expressive arts, like drawing and painting, as a way to help children who were "shut down," often because of their exposure to violence and abuse in the home. "It’s a natural way for children to express themselves because they have trouble articulating their feelings," she says.
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For Sanger, the seeds of a new therapeutic program were sown. It came together in a flash that day on the beach. "I felt like something was guiding me, that this was something I was supposed to do," she shares.
After her marriage ended, Sanger realized her goal of living in the mountains when she moved to Park City. She had visited the town several times to ski and liked it. "Moving here was scary but I felt like I would be sorry if I didn’t," she says. She found jobs with a private home health agency in Salt Lake City and, later, the Counseling Center in Park City. When the Center closed, she opening her private practice here.
Her long-held dream became reality in 1999, when she got a modest grant from Park City Youth Services to start Arts-Kids. Over the last 14 years, the program has been implemented in schools throughout Summit County, enriching the lives of thousands of children and teenagers age 8 through 17. More recently, thanks to support from the national Episcopalian Indigenous Ministry, the program has expanded to serve the Ute Tribe in the Uintah Basin of northeastern Utah.
Sanger credits her board of directors and a dedicated group of paid facilitators with much of the program’s success. Anticipating more opportunities to expand, the nonprofit recently hired a development director to promote the program and increase its funding base. "I really believe in the model and the program and I know it can really help kids. The key is finding the money and the ‘angels’ that will help us," she says.
Sanger has worked tirelessly to perfect her model for the program. She recently completed a comprehensive training manual which she hopes will expedite implementation of the program into other areas of the state and perhaps other states. She considers Arts-Kids almost her fourth child. "You know, you want to send your children out into the world healthy and whole. Considering a lot of the program has just been me, I’ve been thinking big. We could get really busy, really fast," she laughs.
- Favorite activities: hiking, attending films and live theatre
- Favorite foods: Italian, gourmet cooking of any kind
- Favorite reading: Ken Follett, Pat Conroy, Khaled Hosseini, mysteries of any kind
- Favorite music: pop, new age; folk and classical
- Bucket list: travel the world, especially Europe