Drive to help others motivates Artesani
May 5, 2007
Lauren Artesani got grounded for two weeks when she was 13 years old. She can’t remember why, but recalls the consequences with a grimace. "I couldn’t go outside to play, talk on the phone, watch TV or listen to the radio," she recalls. It was harsh punishment for a teenager. What could have faded into an unpleasant adolescent memory instead sparked a story that rivals a Disney movie script. A loving mother’s punishment led to a life-changing event that ultimately guided Artesani to Park City and her life’s work.
"There was a school dance that I really wanted to go to," she remembers. "My mom finally said she’d let me go if I volunteered to help out with a Special Olympics track and field event at my high school. I said ‘fine, whatever, I’ll do it.’ I showed up and, instantly, it was a perfect match. I left there knowing what I wanted to do with my life and I’ve been working with people with disabilities ever since."
The 32-year-old Highland Estates resident, who just returned from her honeymoon in the Caribbean, describes herself as both outgoing and reflective. "I think I’m insightful, I like to take things in. That’s been a big help in my work, "she says.
"When you’re looking at a person with a disability, you need to know that there’s so much more going on in their heart and soul. I try to see the whole picture and find out what’s going on inside so I can relate to them. I try to incorporate that holistic view into my work and my everyday life."
When she was six the family moved to Saudi Arabia, where her mom’s husband worked as an aircraft mechanic. "I remember being baptized in the Persian Gulf, living in the desert and my mom having to cover her whole body with clothing." says Artesani.
The family returned to the states two years later and purchased a small farm near Kunkletown, Pennsylvania. "It was neat growing up there," she says. "We had a barn, a real outhouse, a big garden and a natural spring that ran right through the yard. People would make fun of me because I would only drink water. That was before it was cool to drink water. I still only drink water."
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"On the farm at night, I could hear the neighbor’s wooden wind chimes in the distance and the brook running through our yard," she continues. "Those have always been my favorite sounds; I still love to camp by a stream so I can listen at night."
Artesani graduated from Pleasant Valley High School in Kunkletown, the site of her teenage epiphany, already knowing her professional destiny. She attended East Stroudsburg University, perched in the Poconos of northeast Pennsylvania, earning a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor and Therapeutic Recreation.
"In college I worked at a ski rental shop so I could ski for free," Artesani recalls. "In the summers I managed a river-running company where we did rafting and canoeing and tubing. They were both right on the Appalachian trail and the Delaware River."
Artesani met her husband, Greg, at college. "I had the only car on campus," she explains. "When my friend Dave, also a student there, asked me to drive him to Connecticut to visit friends, I said sure. Greg was one of the friends. We had a long-distance relationship until I graduated. Then I arranged a three-month, post-graduate internship at the National Ability Center in Park City. When I told Greg I was moving, he said he was coming with me and that was it."
The two arrived in town in the spring of 1998 and have been here ever since. "We just fell in love with the place," says Artesani. "After my internship, I was offered a job at NAC. That was nine years ago and I’m still here." During that time the ambitious newlywed has worked in a variety of positions while earning a Master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Utah.
"The Center has about 22 different programs and I think I’ve worked in about every one of them," she says. In her current position as a Program Manager, Artesani lists the following as the programs that she manages: Sled hockey, Nordic, Bobsled; Aquatics and Outdoor Education..
She especially enjoys the Outdoor Education program, citing the therapeutic values of recreation and socialization for children with a disability or young adults and their families. "I like taking families out to go camping or river rafting," she says. "They know I’m going to take care of them, so they trust me. Then I teach them so they can go out on their own."
Artesani traveled to Thailand in January with NAC Director Meeche White on a federal grant. "I was so honored and excited that she included me in the grant proposal," says Artesani. "We went over there and taught coaches how to instruct adaptive recreation. In June, ten of the Thailand trainees will come over and I’ll spend three weeks with them in advanced training. It’s an exciting project."
While her work is her passion, Artesani has found a reasonable balance in her life away from NAC. She says she loves everything about living in Park City. "My very favorite thing in life is go hiking with my husband and my dogs," she says, singling out Iron Canyon and as her favorite hike. She also enjoys Main Street gallery strolls and holiday festivities, especially the July 4th parade.
The couple shares their home with three dogs and two cats: Toby, an 12-year old shepherd/collie mix; Kara, a five-year old black Labrabor; Mila, a calico cat; Reggie, a full black kitty; and, the newest member of the family, 14-week old Zoe, a silver Lab. All but the silver Lab were adopted or rescued. "Kara was found in a basket at the recycling center," notes Artesani. Their plan is to add children to the mix over the next few years.
Destiny may have played a role in leading Artensani to Park City and the NAC, but her mother tells a different story. "Of course, my mom still takes credit for it, grounding me and helping me find my life’s work," chuckles Artesani. "My husband says I’m so lucky that I’ve always known what I wanted to do. For me it’s like, ‘oh yeah, the other side is not knowing, and I’ve never had that.’ I guess I am lucky."
Age 32, husband Greg. Mother Mary Lou, two sisters, Elizabeth 20 and Kathryn 15.
Favorite things to do in Park City: Swim, hike, bike, run, backpack, ski, snowshoe [what’s left?]
Pets: three dogs and two cats [see above].
Favorite foods: Mexican and Chinese, which gives her lots to choose from in town.