While interning as an art therapist at Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Hospital, Donna Lexa began enhancing the lives of individuals who had sustained disabling injuries though art. One of her favorite patients at Sacred Heart was a young woman who had just had a stroke. When the young woman was discharged from the hospital, she desperately wanted to continue to receive the benefits of creating art, which had helped her to deal with the effects of her stroke. However, there were no art classes for adults with disabilities in the Waukesha area where she lived, and she could no longer drive.
The young woman’s husband, who was an attorney, told Donna he would help her with the legal aspects of opening a nonprofit community art center in the area if she could find a building to get it started. Donna, who was always full of great enthusiasm and energy, did just that. In a church that allowed her to use its Sunday school room one day a week free of charge, Donna started the Community Art Center. She had great respect for all her students and strove for their independence, individuality, and feelings of accomplishment and self-worth.
The art center grew to have programming five days a week, with satellite locations in West Bend and West Milwaukee. Donna also started community outreach classes in Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties at locations where adults with disabilities live and receive other services.
Four days before she had planned to accept a Waukesha County Women of Distinction award in May 1996, Donna Lexa was tragically killed in a car accident. The staff and the Board of Directors of the Donna Lexa Community Art Centers—renamed in her honor—worked to ensure that Donna’s legacy would live on through the art centers.
Today, the Donna Lexa Art Centers provide creative opportunities for adults and teens with special needs, as well as older adults of all abilities. Currently seven instructors inspire artistic abilities at the three studio locations and seven community outreach locations, enriching and transforming the lives of participants.