Michele Younker and Leon Ostrander collaborate on a project at the Beautiful Minds Art Studio. Younker is the studio’s manager/instructor and Ostrander is one of her students.
When Michele Younker was considering her career path, she acknowledged that she “had no idea” how she was going to find a job that combined her two passions – helping people with special needs and art/graphic design.
Then along comes Beautiful Minds Art Studio, operated by Sunflower Diversified Services at 5523 10th. The non-profit agency serves people with disabilities and delays in central Kansas.
Younker, an Ellinwood native, recalled her reaction when she heard about the new position at the studio.
“I thought, ‘oh my gosh, this is the perfect job,’” she said. “My experience serving people with special needs and background in art have meshed for me here.”
Younker, a 2006 Ellinwood High School graduate, was a special education para-professional at Ellinwood Middle School, Great Bend High School and Goddard High School. She has a 2009 associate’s degree in graphic design from Barton Community College and a 2011 bachelor’s in fine arts from Kansas State University.
“Everything has just gelled,” she said. “And now I have the privilege of instructing my new students who are clients at Sunflower.”
Younker teaches classes every weekday in pottery, painting, drawing and sketching.
“Most students are really getting into it,” she commented. “I am impressed with their creativity and how they come up with ideas on their own. I don’t have to prompt them too much.”
In most cases, the artists are thinking about someone in particular when they create a piece of art. “They are so excited when they are working on their projects because they plan to give them as gifts,” Younker explained.
The instructor added that students often don’t want to leave when class is over but are reassured they can continue with their projects at the next session.
“This demonstrates their passion for expressing themselves artistically,” Younker said. “It is great that Sunflower offers this new opportunity. Some people have limited verbal skills but they can express themselves here without using words. Art is a great outlet and very therapeutic.”
She noted a quote that is displayed on the wall at the studio: ‘Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’
“That sums it up,” Younker said.
Younker’s background in graphic design includes positions at Hanes in Manhattan and Fuller Industries in Great Bend.
Debbie McCormick, Sunflower director of marketing, said “Michele is an unbelievably great asset for Sunflower and the studio. She closely interacts with her students and gets to know the personality of each individual.
“Michele helps the artists identify their personal interests and the type of art they want to create. This is an amazing opportunity for clients at Sunflower and Michele is making it happen.”
Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 54th year.