This past week I attended the “Woman Who Teach Art for Social Change” event at the Bellarmine Forum. Women from various organizations that work to help children through the arts spoke at the event. Sherry Jason from the City Hearts organization began the forum with a touching story of how she decided to begin the organization. In 1977, Sherry was working as a lawyer and had to go on a your of a juvenile hall center. At some point during her visit, she heard the sound of a piano – as someone who had grown up with music and dance, Sherry was curious and followed the sound. She discovered that it was a young boy who was having his first piano lesson and was already playing Mozart. At this moment she thought, what if he had met the piano before gangs and drugs? She realized that very few programs focused on prevention, and that prevention through arts could be extremely beneficial for children.
City Hearts was founded in 1984 and began providing free classes in the arts – dance, theater, and music – three times per week to children. Today, City Hearts offers 61 classes per week to 27,000 children. The organization also has a program called “Sentence to the Stage.” I thought that this was a really interesting concept – for non-violent crimes, youth can be sentenced to performing in a play for City Hearts. I think it’s great that kids are given an alternative to a community service sentence, or something along those lines, and may be given the opportunity to do something they’ll really love and benefit from.
Another organization at the forum was WriteGirl, which was just named California non-profit of the year. This organization, which was founded 10 years ago, involves in-school programs and also 9-month mentoring program. The 9-month mentoring program allows girls to be matched one-on-one with a mentor to work on essay writing, reading, and college prep. The girls learn song writing, screen writing, non-fiction, and creative non-fiction. At the end of the program, the work that the girls produce is published into an anthology. The in-school program works mainly work pregnant or parenting teens. Unlike with the mentoring program, their work is not published because much of what they write is very personal. Encouraging the girls to write gives them an outlet to speak their minds and recount events without worry.
I was really glad to attend this event because these are organizations I probably would not have known about otherwise. As someone who has grown up parents who were constantly taking me to museums, signing me up for art classes and piano lessons, and taking trips to Barnes and Noble, I really appreciate the arts and know how lucky I am. At some point I’d love to work for one of these organizations, or for something similar. I’ll definitely be keeping them in mind when making future plans.