Alumna’s Growing Nonprofit Calls Downtown Findlay Home for a Decade
In Sarah Crisp’s line of work, one moment she can be speaking to a small child with autism and in the next moment she’s addressing the executive of a company. Crisp, University of Findlay alumna ’08 and Founding Executive Director of Awakening Minds Art (AMA), credits Findlay for providing her with the well-rounded education that taught her how to take on the challenge of communicating with diverse groups of people.
Crisp immediately felt at home during her first visit to Findlay as a high school student and she carried this feeling over into AMA, whose home studio has been in downtown Findlay for the past 10 years. The organization began as a traveling one-on-one therapeutic service across northwest Ohio. Over time the studio evolved and has been located in four different locations all in downtown Findlay. In August 2018, AMA moved into a custom-designed studio downtown, 317 S. Main St., that offers more space, accessibility and safety for the community it serves.
Evolving with Each Move
The University of Findlay alumna began her journey with AMA after graduation when she discovered she could combine her passion of art and her major in psychology with a program called Art Without Boundaries. She went through about a year of training and certification with the organization. In 2009, Crisp started AMA out of her car, traveling to nursing homes, schools and students’ homes to provide one-on-one therapeutic art programming. With her training, she felt confident to go into facilities and show what she had to offer. She said most of the time, she was hired right on the spot.
After a year of traveling all over the region, she realized she was spending too much time driving. So, she decided to open up her own studio in downtown Findlay. The first location was a shared space on Crawford Street. With a brick and mortar storefront, more clients began to pour in, which eventually led to moving the studio next door to a location they didn’t have to share.
With this move, parents began asking for more educational programs and homeschool classes, and nursing homes asked for more group programming. She began hiring people whose specialties were in education and group programming, which eventually led to another move into another shared space that could accommodate more people. “Every time we were moving into a larger space, we outgrew it almost immediately,” she said. Eventually, the business they shared the space with moved out, but they still needed more space to accommodate the amount of students and services they offered.
With the constant growth and demand, AMA opened up branch locations in Lima and Leipsic, and began offering more programming to nursing homes and the community overall. “What we were doing was just listening to the community, asking what they wanted and what they needed. We were meeting the community’s needs,” she said.
Two years ago, Sarah Crisp made the decision to move the Awakening Minds Art (AMA) home studio for the fifth time. A car accident that happened outside of her studio minutes after students and their families were entering the facility caused Crisp to say, “No more. We are getting out of here. We need a parking lot. We need drop-off zones. We need a safer place.”
In August 2018, AMA moved into the new studio designed to offer more space, safety and accessibility. The organization has also been able to enhance its services with the new facility. Although the goal of this new studio was not to serve more clients, Crisp said that naturally happened. Over the years, AMA has not only grown to have about 10,000 clients, but also now employs six full-time and three part-time staff. They have expanded to provide therapeutic, educational and developmental programs to all ages and abilities.
Impactful University Experiences
As AMA evolved, so did Crisp’s role. In the early stages of the organization, she spent a lot of her time teaching students, but she now spends the majority of her time on the business side of things. Crisp is able to be flexible with who she is interacting with thanks to the experiences she had at the University of Findlay.
During a sociology class in her first semester, students were paired with international students as conversation partners. Assigned to a student from China, “It was by far the most uncomfortable thing that I was asked to do,” Crisp said. “I never had diversity in my life. To be essentially the mentor for someone from another country, I was just not looking forward to it.” Despite her doubts, she said she grew to be close friends with her conversation partner, inviting her to family events and staying in touch to this day. “That experience opened my eyes to not only diversity, but to how misunderstood so many people that are different can be. It really helped me get more comfortable being around people who are not like me.” In her role as Founding Executive Director of AMA, she said she has to be able to talk to everyone, and that experience helped her to do that.
Crisp knew Findlay was home when she visited campus and met with John Malacos, Ph.D., former professor of psychology. “When I first found the University and was talking to Dr. Malacos up in his office, I just remember telling my mom this is it, this is where I want to go.” Even after graduating, Crisp said Findlay still feels like home, which is why she felt comfortable opening her studio downtown in 2009. “Feeling so comfortable and so at home at the university just really made it easy for me to really dive in and make this community my own. It made it easy for me to want to start my organization here.”
Feeling at Home in the Findlay Community
AMA was welcomed with open arms, as the surrounding Findlay community not only encourages art but is a special needs programming hotspot. “You can find just about any type of special needs programming in Findlay. We fit right in.” She said a lot of families move to Findlay for all the services or are transferred here for work and decide to stay because of all the services that are offered. While the organization moved locations four times since opening its first storefront in 2009, every studio has been located downtown.
When Crisp first graduated from Findlay and started AMA out of her car, she never thought it would become the organization she runs today. But because she listened to the community she was serving, AMA grew quickly. As the organization expanded, Crisp began doing more relationship building in the community. As her role evolved, she felt prepared thanks to her diverse education at Findlay. From the moment she came to Findlay for a college visit, she felt at home and that feeling has followed her and her studio over the last 10 years.
If you would like to support or be part of the AMA community, go to http://www.awakeningmindsart.org/.