WASHINGTON – A UPS “sorry,we missed you” notice was sitting in front of Andrea Gates-Ingle’s art gallery in downtown El Paso one Monday in June when the gallery was closed. When she picked up the letter from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities,she assumed it was a rejection letter.
But it wasn’t.
On Friday Gates-Ingle and two girls who participate in Project AIM (Arts in Motion) were guests of first lady Michelle Obama at a ceremony at the White House.
Obama presents awards each year to after-school programs from across the country. She reassured Danashiya Pritchard,12,a Creative Kids participant,not to be nervous. She was chosen to speak on behalf of Creative Kids and was the youngest person to speak at the ceremony.
“I want to draw your attention to this beautiful pastel painting,” Obama said of Danashiya’s flower painting on display. “We are so proud of you,sweetie.”
A seventh grader at Parkland Middle School,Danashiya was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when she was 6 months old. She painted the flowers when she was 8 or 9 years old,she said during her remarks.
“By the time I was done,I had this beautiful piece of artwork and this amazing cloud nine feeling,” Danashiya said. “It happens all the time. Every time I enter Creative Kids,the disease,the IV,the pain it’s all gone. The only thing on my mind is the paint brush in my hand.”
Project AIM,the first initiative to launch under Creative Kids in 1999,was one of 12 arts programs recognized by the Youth Program Award. Project AIM works with pediatric oncology patients at Providence Children’s Hospital through art-mediated therapy.
Gates-Ingle,the founder of the El Paso arts program Creative Kids,along with husband and co-founder Stephen Ingle,submitted their application to the President’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities in February,and until that Monday in June,they hadn’t given it much thought.
“We picked it up. It was a big box,” Gates-Ingle said. “We opened it and all I can say is there was a lot screaming and crying and tears of joy. We were just hugging each other. We were so excited.”
The nonprofit organization began in 1999,when Gates-Ingle,then teaching special education in Canutillo Middle School,invited Ingle,then her boyfriend,to teach at her class. He was an art student at the University of Texas at El Paso.
That night they talked about creating a nonprofit kids art program and sketched out the logo on a napkin. After knocking on doors,they partnered with Providence Hospital and began Project AIM.
Miranda Luna,15,a freshman at Franklin High School receive the award with Gates-Ingle. She said she didn’t have words to describe meeting the first lady and receiving the award.
“It was amazing. I don’t remember it very well. It was all so quick,” Miranda,who was diagnosed with leukemia at 10,said after the ceremony. “I just remember her asking if I was OK.”
Miranda was introduced to Project AIM after what she called a boring few days at Providence Hospital.
“When I would pick up the pencil and just start drawing,the whole world,and everything that was happening just kind of disappeared. I was in my own little world. Everything was gone,the pain and everything. That was kind of my way of escaping reality,” Miranda said.
After the ceremony,Danashiya was still taking in the fact that she had just received a standing ovation from the audience after her speech and had her artwork complimented by the first lady.
“My cheeks are sore from all the smiling I’m doing,” Danashiya said. “I felt amazing. I know it was good to get here,but was it really that good for the first lady to like it?”
Gates-Ingle said she’s received countless emails and calls and appreciates the community support greatly.
“It’s really near and dear my heart. The amount of kids we’ve served over the years,14 years – some of them,a lot of them,have passed away – to get something like this,you reflect back on all these patients and kids we’ve served,and it’s just incredible,” Gates-Ingle said. “This award is really for them because they’re inspiring and amazing and changed our lives.”
Reach reporter Andrés Rodríguez at [email protected] or 202-326 9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.