YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — If life has taught Kate Bowditch anything, it's to do what she wants, even when people tell her no. That philosophy is based on an important premise — you never know where that experiment will take you.

"I don't think that will make me very popular. But this is my time to do everything I had set aside for years," the 71-year-old said. "I didn't realize how many things I had set aside until now."

From a young age, Bowditch wanted to be a cartoonist. Despite urging from her mother to choose a different career path, she went to college, earning a bachelor's degree in fine arts in 1971 from the University of New Mexico.

"But I knew I had to make some money," Bowditch said. "So I went for my second degree in psychology, and I've been a therapist all my life."

That never stopped her from creating art. It just had to take a backseat to more than 20 years as a mental health counselor.

Until about three years ago.

A friend of Bowditch's started an adult coloring group at the Lynnwood mobile home park where she lived. Knowing Bowditch was an artist, the friend asked her to draw coloring pages for the group.

"Creating these pages resonated with my dream of being a cartoonist," she said. "So, I began drawing pictures."

After six months of creating pages for her friend's group, Bowditch started on her first coloring book.

"I had a pen pal in Gambia, and he sent me pictures of his life," she said. "So I began to draw them and we ended up making a coloring book together."

The book is only sold in the small African nation. But it changed the life of her pen pal, Musa Fatty.

As a result of the pictures, Fatty earned a scholarship to a university where he's studying to teach agriculture — a far cry from his childhood dream of owning a donkey so he could collect and sell firewood.

But that's not the only way Bowditch's renewed love for coloring has impacted the lives of those around her.

Last April, Bowditch and her husband moved to Yakima from Everett to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren.

While looking for ways to make friends in a new town, Bowditch's neighbor told her about the Harman Center.

The center has 30 to 35 classes each week, including Zumba, miniature furniture-making and quilting, according to recreation program supervisor Leslie Richard. The center's members range from about 50 to 100 years old, although they wouldn't turn away anyone younger, she joked.

"At first, I didn't want to go," Bowditch said. "I thought, 'I'm not a senior citizen. I'm only 71.'"

After hearing more about the center from area residents, she relented and checked it out. A few days later, Bowditch started a coloring group at the center. The group meets from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays.

"What we are is a group that does coloring — we color in coloring book drawings," Bowditch explained. "I know, that sounds like bore, snore but it's a five-year phenomenon across the U.S. Adults have realized that quietly coloring is calming in this society we live in."

And it's more than coloring pretty pictures.

It's a lifeline to cling to when times are hard and it provides a community to sit quietly with, without having to discuss feelings or painful memories.

On Dec. 2, Bowditch went to see a movie with her husband, daughter and grandchildren. When she pulled into her driveway after the movie, she looked over and found her husband dead in the front seat.

That loss, combined with the deaths and injuries of other family members and friends, was devastating for Bowditch.

But coloring has been a constant — especially on tough days.

"I thought, I can (get through) the week if I go to coloring," said Bowditch, her eyes welling up with tears. "And I know there are other people in the group just like that."

She's seen people gain self-confidence after receiving praise for their work. She's seen others — who have clearly been physically beaten down by life — regain some small mobility from coloring.

And she's seen others still open their world to color and beauty — an effort that can be challenging after years of sitting behind a desk instead of taking in the world around them.

And, in addition to coloring, Bowditch now is able to do more activities she put off for years.

For instance, she keeps Mondays and Thursdays free so she can wander Cowiche Canyon or wake up early to watch the sunrise over Yakima's ridges. She's also exploring the possibility of making coloring books specifically for the physically disabled. Bowditch has completed three coloring books and drawn illustrations for other books in addition to the coloring book sold in Gambia.

"There's something wonderful if I can do a drawing and then send it out to people who love that thing — it makes me feel good," Bowditch said. "What brings me the most joy is just getting to see what other people do with my drawings."


Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, http://www.yakimaherald.com