Performing Arts from the Heart

The Problem

The mission of Performing Arts from the Heart is to provide after-school theatre programs to low-income adolescents. We believe that after-school theatre programs can help students to (a) avoid the dangers inherent in unsupervised, unstructured after-school time (especially for students who live in high-crime neighborhoods) and (b) develop habits that will contribute to social and academic success. Participants in after school theatre programs can gain meaningful social and academic benefits. An 11-year study of 17,000 10th graders and found that after-school arts-involved students, particularly in low-income communities, have higher average educational aspirations as well as improved academic achievement and social and cognitive development. After-school, students from low-income families are often too much on their own, both physically and psychologically. Early adolescence is a pivotal period for children from low-income families, which makes after school programs especially important. These programs can create safe, protected places to play, along with an extra measure of adult attention. While the benefits of after-school arts programming are widely supported, there remains a deficit of supply. Studies show that only one-third of schools in low-income neighborhoods offer after-school programs.

Plan of Action

Over the past four years, I have led fundraising and operations for Performing Arts from the Heart. To date, we have raised over $30,000. I used my bat mitzvah gifts as "seed money", which allowed us to deliver our first programs in New Rochelle, New York. At the end of the school year, I wrote a letter describing our work and sent it to family and friends. I was pleased (and a little overwhelmed) by the generous response -- it was clear at that point that people wanted to see the work continue! I have continued the same pattern the past two years -- at the end of each year's program, I have reported on our success and launched a fundraising drive for the coming year. This past year, I extended the fundraising to include corporate donors, which has turned out to be a very effective strategy. The operations of Performing Arts from the Heart are largely centered around hiring and managing (a) the theatre educators who deliver the school-based programming and (b) our relationship with the school and its students. Towards these ends, I attend and lend an extra hand at rehearsals, make sure that additional resources are provided along the way (such as copies of scripts, snacks for the kids, etc.), draft and make copies of schedules and letters to parents, etc. Near the end of each school year, as the performances draw near, there are a host of performance-related tasks that need to be done, including making sure there are sufficient technical resources (working sound and lights), a stage manager and tech person, management of logistics with the school, etc. What kind of impact have we made? > We have created a model for afterschool theatre programming that has helped students, teachers, parents and administrators to recognize and appreciate its benefits. I am hoping that the academic research that I am leading will codify these benefits, which will allow us to support the rationale for extending these kinds of programs to more kids in more places. > Over 1,500 students in the Harlem community have attended our performances. Our hope is that this example of student creativity and achievement has been an inspiration to students, teachers and administrators. > And most important is the impact on participants in the program. Students who started the program with low self-esteem who seemingly transformed before our eyes. Students who came to realize and appreciate the creative spark that lies within themselves. Students who gained incremental self-confidence and support for the argument that "hard work pays off". Over the past four years, Performing Arts from the Heart has “proven a model”. We have made a meaningful difference the lives of our student participants. We have demonstrated to our audiences the power and potential of creativity and hard work.

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