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Passionate About Serving

Most of us use the word “passionate” frequently – maybe too frequently. There is, however, no other word to describe Nansii Downer — especially if we’re talking about passion in serving others.

One of the important things to know about Nansii is that she wasn’t always the person she is now. There was a time (a long time) when she harbored an aversion to people. She plainly didn’t like them, didn’t want to be around them, didn’t want friends, and certainly didn’t want someone rushing up and hugging her. She was terrified of people, and it all stemmed from a traumatic experience when she was five years old.

“My husband Bryan and I owned a cleaning business and belonged to the Chamber,” Nansii explained. “He went to the meetings, but I refused. I almost stopped going to our church because, regardless of which door we used to enter the building, the same lady was waiting to hug me. She asked me to pass out bulletins with her. I told her I didn’t hug, and I didn’t volunteer.”

A gentleman from the Chamber called Nansii about volunteering. She told him the same thing she told the lady at church.

“I started praying so hard,” Nansii admitted. “One day while praying, a voice inside me said, ‘Nansii, I’ll never allow anyone to hurt you again if you begin to volunteer and serve people.’”

She trusted what she heard, and what emerged was a woman with a completely unabridged passion for helping.

Nansii volunteered to deliver Meals On Wheels, developing a concerned affection for many of the seniors on her route. A consuming dedication to volunteer was born.

Today, Nansii works with the Northeast Tarrant Chamber of Commerce. She’s served on six different non-profit boards, with city mayors, city council, police, and congressional and senate representatives, all with a focus on making sure the disadvantaged are heard and their needs are met.

“People need to have fun, to interact with members of their community, to feel relevant regardless of their age or their physical and/or mental or emotional challenges. I believe, passionately, it’s their right,” she said.

A huge portion of Nansii’s emotional and physical efforts are devoted to the Art on Wheels project, a part of ArtsNET. AOW offers art classes as a creative outlet for senior citizens and individuals aged 17 and up, with limited financial resources, and/or limited mobility due to health or transportation issues. The program is based on the belief that art, culture, and entertainment are crucial for mental health and well-being.

“Seniors tend to isolate,” Nansii said, “which is one of the worst things they can do. Our hundreds of volunteers, board members, and everyone involved focus on providing access to artistic, cultural, and educational opportunities for everyone in order to improve the quality of life in our Tarrant County communities.”

Certified instructors skilled in art therapy guide participants in the step-by-step creation of artwork. The diverse art mediums range from painting and sculpting to performance arts such as music or poetry. No previous experience is necessary, and all supplies are provided.

Also under the ArtsNET umbrella is Masterworks, a partnership with cities for free concerts throughout the year. It consists of quality family entertainment for the community through the talent of local, regional, and national artists.

The Aging in the Arts program partners with independent and assisted living facilities, senior centers, community centers, and other older adult facilities. It’s an avenue for increasing mental and physical activity, elevating confidence, establishing pride and a sense of worthiness, and fostering new friendships and community connections.

Arts and Disability, Healing in the Arts, and Arts in the Community are three more programs on the ArtsNET menu. Regardless of the name, everything is based on the idea that life can be happier and overall better and healthier when it includes art.

“We bring art projects for kids to the Northeast Mall,” Nansii said. “We bring music to communities. We want to keep the arts alive and communities to thrive. The only way to do that is through togetherness. The Haltom Senior Center was asked to display some of their art in hotels and other locations. It’s impossible to imagine the sense of pride that builds in those senior artists.”

There was a seismic shift in Nansii the day she heard that voice promising to protect her. She’s an avid quilter and the author of four books. Where does she find the time and the energy? More than likely, it comes from that same voice.

For more information on volunteering, donating, or participating, go to theartsnet.org.

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