Melesa Eckstein Dobbins’ life changed significantly in less than 45 days. Seemingly all at once, Melesa’s life just crashed crash down around her.
“My sister, who was my best friend, was moving far away. My parents were divorcing. My dog of 10 years died. My son hurt his leg in football and ended up in a wheelchair," she said. "I had to keep taking off work to attend to my family and my job at a preschool ended. My whole life was turned upside down. My husband said, ‘I know you are really sad. Are you just going to sit on the couch and cry or are you going to do something about it?’ I said, ‘I think I am going to sit on the couch and cry.’”
Painting with Lemons
A teacher by trade, Melesa was struggling with how to move forward. Both her former students and their parents encouraged her to start her own school.
“Once that idea was planted in my head, I couldn’t leave it alone,” she explained. Her students’ parents, friends and family offered Melesa financial backing, real estate help and many types of donations to fund the startup. “I had parents offering to pay tuition a year in advance to help with startup costs before I even had a building,” she said. “Life handed me a whole basket of lemons and it made me cry. I decided to take those lemons and paint with them.”
Combining her love of art with 13 years of preschool teaching experience, Melesa decided to open Artsy Learning Center, a creativity-based preschool in Norman. “One of the parents helped me negotiate a lower price so I could afford the space,” she explained. “When I was signing the lease, the person in charge of the space said he wanted to put his child in my school. And he did. My mom helped me make cushions and drapes and my dad helped me make furniture. Without the parents of my students, my husband, and my own parents, I could not have done it. All of these people who I was connected with came together and became an important, intricate part of my life. “
Creativity at home
Melesa is married to Brian Dobbins, assistant director and professor in the School of Music at the University of Oklahoma. A member of the Boyd Street Brass Band, the Norman Philharmonic and the prestigious Santa Fe Symphony, Brian frequently travels for work for a week at a time and it sometimes creates challenges in the relationship.
“It makes us have to try to communicate and show effort toward each other,” Melesa said. And, as Melesa and Brian are expecting a baby in December, that effort will become even more important in the coming year. “I can’t wait to put my baby in a sling and teach preschool, but it is nice that Brian’s schedule is very flexible if it ever becomes too much.”
Melesa also has a 13-year-old son, Grant Eckstein, who is technical and creative and has a love for robots and programming. Looking for a way to be continually involved in his life, Melesa has become heavily involved in the Botball program at Alcott Middle School. Family time in Melesa’s house is full of creativity. They often do art projects, such as tie-dyeing, painting canvases and creating skits. They also enjoy live music and often attend concerts by the OKC Philharmonic.
Ultimately, it is the support of her family that allows her to continue following her dream. Melesa says she is extremely thankful for her family and the community support in allowing her to channel her love of creativity and teaching into her own business.
“It was like life was happening to me and this is what it was supposed to be,” she said. “This ball was meant to roll. Everything was lined up and ready to go, it was time for it to happen. Everything just worked. From the time I left my former job to the time I opened the doors of Artsy was less than 45 days. I had to walk through the doors, but the doors were all there, all lined up. All I had to do was walk through them all.”