Tuesdays are special for Sara Evans.
It's the day she goes to Pyramid, a training center in Tampa for people with developmental disabilities.
She paints the whole day. Her style is edgy. She likes anime and fruit and flowers and skulls.
In 2009, she graduated with a special diploma from Gaither High School. She was popular. Since then, the 23-year-old mostly just stays home while her parents work.
She watches TV. She plays her guitar.
She misses her school friends and having somewhere to go every day.
Sometimes she's lonely, she said.
In January, her mother signed her up at Pyramid, near Sligh and Rome avenues, after learning about the program's visual and performing arts classes. But the family can only afford the $30-a-day rate once a week. For seven years, Sara has been on the waiting list for a state and federal program that would cover her costs at Pyramid. If she ever gets the funding, she says she would go to Pyramid five days a week.
"I like to come here because I love art so much," she said. "The two things I like the most: singing and dancing and playing my guitar and writing songs."
And sign language. And her friends. And, of course, painting.
Lucinda Evans was five months' pregnant when she found out the baby she was carrying had Down syndrome. Her husband, Roderick Evans, was in the Navy and had left that day for a six-month tour.
He was sent back home. Doctors told them that Sara might not live to be born. But she did. After birth, she had two major surgeries and didn't start to thrive until she was 7.
She was a shy child. At one time, she was in a class with 22 other elementary students, so her mother decided to homeschool her and give her one-on-one attention. She taught her to read, which Sara can now do at a third-grade level.
She always tried to challenge Sara, without overwhelming her. She hoped to equip her to live in this world.
To do that Sara needed to be around other children. So her mother sent her to Orange Grove Middle Magnet School. There she took dance classes five days a week and learned to sketch. Her self-esteem soared. Although she couldn't compete with her peers academically, she finally was able to do something better than they could. Her art is unique.
At Gaither, she took core classes in special education and electives with traditional students, including ceramics and photography.
Sometimes people can't understand Sara. Sometimes they belittle her.
"Sara has to deal with stereotypes all the time," Lucinda Evans said. "People look at her outward appearance and decide she's like this."
On a recent Tuesday, Sara shows a finished picture to a guest.
"It's a first baby son," she says. "It's really beautiful."
Sara creates constantly, said Bob Terri, the visual arts coordinator at Pyramid. She sketches on the backs of notepads or whatever is handy. He encourages Sara to pursue her own brand of creativity and to make decisions for herself. He says students thrive in a safe, healthy and happy environment and when they are engaged in the community.
At Pyramid, students also work on dance and choral pieces that they perform for the public. Their jewelry and paintings are for sale.
Three galleries have works from Pyramid: Singing Stone-Casa de Art in Ybor City, the Kotler Art Gallery at the John F. Germany Library in downtown Tampa, and the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida.
Sara has several pieces in the galleries. She hasn't sold any yet, but when she does, she dreams of ways to spend her money.
She might take classes at Hillsborough Community College or go to France to study art.
Or maybe she could buy that Mac laptop she has been wanting. "I really, really, really want one," she said.
The Internet inspires her. Plus, with a laptop, she could record herself playing guitar and play along with other bands, she says. She wants to reproduce her paintings, sell copies and become a self-supporting artist. That's what Pyramid is all about: helping people become active in their community.
In the end, her mother says, "she really just wants to be treated like anyone else."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.