EVERETT, Wash. — Mary Toews sees her mission in life as giving children wings to fly, or in this case, dance.
As she straps blinking butterfly wings to the backs of a handful of tiny ballerinas, she can't help but smile.
"They are so beautiful," Toews said. "Every one of them is so special."
Toews established Mari's Place for the Arts in Everett nine years ago.
A donation-based, all-volunteer staff teaches hundreds of children to dance, music, and art. Many of them come from immigrant families, and many of those children are poor.
Toews, a Mexican immigrant herself, doesn't charge if families can't afford it. She only asks for two words.
"When they come in and say thank you, you're changing my life, I am growing, and I am different now than I was six months ago,” Toews said. “That thank you, there is no money in the world to pay you."
Miguel Zavala found his place at Mari's. The son of a single mom who works as a housekeeper, he is now an honors student and artist who is just starting to understand his canvas is full of possibilities.
"I was like, wow, can I actually do all this stuff? Is it actually possible? I was kinda surprised," Miguel said, working on a painting of a sports car. "It's just a wonderful place where you can learn."
The inspiration for all this was Mary's son, Brian, who grew very sick and needed open-heart surgery at just 4 years old.
"He loved to sing and dance and performing," said Toews.
That was more than 20 years ago. Today, Brian is a teacher in Redmond.
His mom is so grateful for the life of her only child that she finds a place in her heart for any child who walks through her doors.
"They are my children," Toews said, wiping away tears. "They are everything I can leave to this country who gave me the life of my son back, a beautiful place to live and a husband who adores me. I can pay this country only with my service."