Arts center celebrates 10 years serving community’s children

Arts center celebrates 10 years serving community’s children

Residents with long memories will recall A Little Walk Through the Woods, a locally written and produced play with a new twist on an old theme. Ten years ago, Little Red Riding Hood took a brave journey to raise funds for a new community program.

The play, written by Jeff Hess and starring his wife Suzanne, launched what would become a $50,000 fundraising campaign to start the Riverside Children’s Arts Center. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Arts Center is again on a fundraising journey.

RCAC_04“2015 will be a celebratory year,” said Beverly Alexander, chair for the Board of Managers at Riverside Avenue Christian Church, which supports and houses the Arts Center. “Although our vision of being involved in the community predated 2005, a number of things came together then that evolved into the opening of the Arts Center. We are a congregation that likes to be in the community, with outreach as service opportunities.”

A decade ago public schools were reducing art programs and the congregation’s new pastor, Rev. Richard Hull, supported the idea of community outreach. According to Alexander, a Reflective Process Grant from The Community Foundation enabled the church to take a survey within the community, including nearby elementary schools, to determine its greatest needs.

“We found that arts and sports were the two greatest afterschool needs, and art was something we could provide with our building set-up,” said Alexander. “We started with a couple of afternoon programs and camps, then 10 years later it has grown to a year-round program.”

The Arts Center opened in September 2005 with four to five afterschool classes for kindergarten to fifth grade, plus a summer camp, and then, after Kelly Paterno became full-time director in 2009, it expanded to 15 classes each semester and opened to preschool children.

“We are also open for homeschool classes in the mornings and early afternoons. We can tailor classes for homeschool groups, which are typically multi-age classes,” said Paterno.

Alexander said initially they thought it would be a grant-funded program, but it has been supported largely by the congregation, with donations from the community and nominal fees for classes.

“We are very lucky that the church really supports this and feels strongly about offering it to the community and keeping it going,” Paterno said. “We estimate that we have served over 1,000 kids since our inception in 2005.”

RCAC_02RCAC_03The goal of the Arts Center has always been to give kids a safe, comfortable place to try things, at a low cost. “It’s an affordable way for families to let them try a little bit of everything,” noted Alexander.

The range of class offerings is wide, dependent on the availability of instructors, and includes music, drama and art as the base, with occasional classes in dance, photography, yoga, puppetry, interior design, cooking, and mosaics. “We’re open to hearing from potential instructors who have experience working with children,” she said.

“We’re always seeking feedback from the community about what kind of additional classes and programs they want to see,” said Paterno. “We seek to fill a niche in affordable, creative classes for as many people as possible to take advantage of.”

During this anniversary year, the Board of Managers plans to raise funds to upgrade equipment, renovate the art room, establish scholarships and fund guest artists. In addition to the sale of anniversary T-shirts sporting a new logo designed by Jared Varon, anniversary giving opportunities to support future Arts Center programming include the Nolan Halligan Arts Enrichment Scholarship Fund, Walter Ware Guest Artist Fund, Peg Crook Drama Fund, the Art Room and Equipment Fund and unrestricted donations.
Persons interested in teaching or parents interested in enrolling a child can contact Kelly Paterno at [email protected] or (904) 389-1751.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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