Community Heroes: Donna Lewellen

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By Hannah Oswalt

It was March 31st, 1898 when Sapulpa Station became an incorporated city now known as Sapulpa. The town would grow and expand, but the heart of the town would always be her residents—those silent heroes that make our community the great place that is. The ones that sow good things at every opportunity while our town reaps the benefit.

Famous poet Maya Angelou said it this way: “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” Fast forward from our city’s founding to today and let’s talk with one of our community heroes that fit Maya Angelou’s description; enter Donna Lewellen, a kind-hearted Sapulpan who plays a significant role in our community and the lives of our children. Donna is the art teacher at Freedom and Jefferson Elementary schools. She is also the camp director for an amazing summer arts program that helps children explore the different types of art in other cultures, such as their movement (dance), music, theater, and more. We sat down to talk with Donna about what made her decide to get involved with the summer arts program.

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“Sherri Waldrop is the director of the program and she had invited me to come,” she began. “So I spent one summer with the previous art teacher of the camp to see what they were doing. I thought it was a great idea so I signed on as the art teacher and the next thing I knew, I was the camp director.”

Donna said her favorite thing about being an art teacher is being able to witness a kid learning something new.

“Little kids, in particular, they love to do anything, you know,” she said. “But when they get a little bit older, they get a little more inhibited in what things they are wanting to do, and when they discover that they can do something—and you see that lightbulb go on in their head—that is the best thing about being an art teacher. I love it.”

It’s not hard to see how Donna’s heart shines for her students. She is fully committed to giving them her all and teaching them to become the best they can be, not just In art, but also in teaching them they can always improve. She calls it “The power of yet.” 

Donna Lewellen

“So the power of yet, that would be like saying ‘I’m not good at this.’ So we use the growth mindset which is the power of yet,” she says, emphasizing a change in vocabulary to help drive the point. “‘I’m not good at this, yet.’ ‘This is not easy, yet.’ So it’s the idea that there is a place to move forward, a place to grow in. So that’s what the power of yet is—the idea that maybe you can’t do it now, but if you try, you’ll be able to do it eventually,” she explains.

Donna uses art to teach students principles they can use in all areas of life, for example, she said if a student wants to be better at art, they need to follow that timeless advice: practice. “If they want to be better at art, then they have to practice,” she said. “They have to be willing to make mistakes, they have to be willing to fail, to be able to learn…because art teaches you problem-solving skills you can use in any avenue of your life.”

Her favorite artistic quote is “Creativity takes courage,” by French artist Henri Matisse and her other favorite quote is by actress Phylicia Rashad: “Before a child speaks, it sings. Before they write, they paint. As soon as they stand, they dance. Art is the basis of human expression.”

Donna echoes Rashad’s sentiments, saying “everybody has an artist’s voice,” and that her goal is to “help them find that voice.”

“Even if you’re not going to grow up to be an artist, you can still use that artistic voice in whatever path you choose.”

Do you know someone that embodies a “community hero?” Would you like to see them featured here? Send an email to heroes@sapulpatimes.com.