Military families have a new champion in Washington D.C.
Second Lady Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, is settling into her new national — and global — role with two priorities at the forefront: military families and art therapy. She explains that she is taking hold of the chance to do as much good as she can.
“I think for us, you know, this came at a good time in our life. … our kids are all out of college, and so for us it’s not like I have three kids at home, and I’m … juggling soccer practice and braces. So, I think because of that, I feel like I want to be a really good steward of this window of time,” she explained. “We actually had a sermon Sunday where the pastor said, ‘redeem the time, make the most of the opportunity.’ So, I think in our office we look for opportunities where we can maybe elaborate on something. If we’re traveling with the VP, or things on our own, … We really just try to seize each opportunity.”
Family ties to the military
Mrs. Pence, who is a mother of three, has several familial ties to the military. Though, in more recent years she gained a front row view to what life looks like for the current-serving force when she became a Blue Star mom. Her son earned a commissioning into the Marine Corps, and he and his wife are stationed at Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi.
“Mike’s dad was in the Army, I was born on an Air Force base, and now we have a son who’s a Marine, and I think watching my son go through OCS [Officer Candidate School] and the struggles of that — that’s a tough, tough program –— and then now in flight school, now he’s married, just seeing the struggles that military families have,” Mrs. Pence said. “Fortunately, they’ve [her son and daughter-in-law] lived in the same place. They haven’t been married that long, but I know they’re going to have a lot of moves ahead of them, deployments ahead of them, his wife Sarah, of course, wants to be employed when they move, and I know that there are a lot of struggles with military families.”
She says that even though families of today’s service members face challenges, her time as a teacher also taught her about the unbreakable bond that exists within the community.
“I taught out here in Washington, D.C., for 12 years, and I had a lot of military families in my classroom, and you know they would say, you make friends very quickly because you have to. You might just be somewhere for two years, and they reach out to each other, more than maybe the regular citizen does. So, there are a lot of advantages to being a military family and there are a lot of struggles,” she said.
Art therapy to heal
Pence attended Butler University where she earned degrees in education. For 25 years, she was an elementary school teacher prior to the Vice President becoming Governor of Indiana in 2013. Over the years, she adopted a deep interest in art therapy after working with an organization called Tracy’s Kids, which helps children with cancer.
“I’d never heard of art therapy, I mean I have a Masters in Art Education and I’ve never even heard of it. So, it’s not well-known what this profession does,” she said.
She explains that therapists in this field use art as the medium, rather than words.
“Art therapy is three-pointed. You have the client, you have the art, but then you have the therapist. It’s not like when I get my watercolors out and turn on some music and have a fun time painting. It’s really more about having the therapist direct their client through a process where the client is working through whatever stresses or issues they’re dealing with,” Mrs. Pence added.
After more research, she learned of the various ways it could be utilized — including for combat veterans. One such program, Combat Paper, assists veterans who are facing life transitions by giving them an outlet to cut up their military uniforms and turn them into something new. To date, she has observed art therapy programs in Canada, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Indonesia, Australia, South Korea, and across the United States, according to the White House website.
Mrs. Pence outlined three goals:
- Elevate the profession,
- Help people to understand art therapy is an option for them, and
- Encourage more people to go into the field.
Overall, Mrs. Pence says she feels honored to be serving in this role, one she plans to use to highlight the contributions of the nation’s military community.
“Our message always to those in the military and their families is that we appreciate you. We know that freedom isn’t free, and we know it’s a sacrifice, and we appreciate it. I think, so frequently, military people need to understand how much we as a country think of them and value them and value their service,” she said.
Fast facts about Second Lady Karen Pence
She was valedictorian of her high school class.
She is a trained pilot.
Watercolor painting was her preferred medium because it dried easily during her children’s naps.
She has the entrepreneurial spirit, once launching a small business called That’s My Towel! Charm.
She installed a beehive at the Vice President Residence to raise awareness about diminishing population of honeybees.
Keep up to date with the Second Lady’s travels and work on Twitter.