Outreach program helps kids ‘jam’ for the arts

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Outreach program helps kids ‘jam’ for the arts

Feb. 18, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0798}

An e-Review Feature
By Sarah Alsgaard**

ST. PETERSBURG — For three hours every Wednesday afternoon more than two dozen children have an opportunity to indulge their inner artist.

Kymberly Santopolo helps students create objects out of clay. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-0750.

They have art class, piano and recorder lessons, music theater and instruction on playing chimes. Added to the mix are homework help, snacks and playtime.

“We find lots of different ways of helping the children learn about the faith through all kinds of artistic ways,” said Janice Buchanan, director of the music program for Jesus, the Arts and Me (JAM). “We want them to know that they have a wonderful spark of creativity.”

The program is an after-school arts outreach at Christ United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, and it’s one way church members are fulfilling the mandate to care for their neighborhood’s at-risk children.

Every week, the 28 children who participate in the program are divided by age group, rotating between activities that each last for about a half hour.
For Valentine’s Day, the children made Valentine cards for shut-ins and went Valentine caroling, singing love songs and hymns, Buchanan said.
Approximately seven of the children pay the program’s monthly $30 fee. Members of the church give donations to help cover the cost for the other children, who are on free or reduced lunches at school.
“It’s an outreach to the community and certainly to the children in our church, as well, but we want to help the children and not leave any child out,” Buchanan said.
Finding a niche

During a recent Wednesday session, Amy McKalvey never stopped moving, helping wherever she was needed. As JAM’s director McKalvey organizes the first- through fifth-graders and the volunteers, keeps track of the paperwork for each student, and does anything else that’s needed. 

Jesus, the Arts and Me Director Amy McKalvey. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-0751.

“I mean, it’s just such a fantastic program that I think it’s just going to keep going to the point where we hopefully won’t have to turn people away, but have to open it a second day in the week,” she said. “It’s just incredible the looks on their faces. We just want to keep that up.”

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Tom Norton, said the program was born after visiting Travis Park United Methodist church in San Antonio about a year ago. A group from Christ church made the trek to Texas to see what type of ministries Travis Park members were providing their community’s homeless population. 

Norton said the church’s food services, medical screening, dental assistance, clothing, showers, counseling, job placement “and much more” were “impressive.”

“We knew we could not begin to offer what was done there at Christ Church in St. Petersburg,” he said. “ … We realized that we, as a church, needed to be doing something, but with all the services already available in our city and county, we looked for a niche which was not being filled.”

After several meetings with the church’s missions committee McKalvey’s father, the Rev. David Lindsay, retired pastor of Christ Church, came up with the idea for the program.
“The mission’s committee had asked for things we could do for our outreach in the community,” Lindsay said. “And I woke up at three in the morning, and that idea came into my head.”
In September 2007 the program officially began.
“We anticipate that … they’ll learn to love the arts,” Lindsay said. “But we hope it will help them develop self-confidence and have experiences in several kinds of arts … they’ll discover religious themes in the arts, and it’ll give them something their parents can be proud of to see them participate in the various types of arts.”

Benefits for all ages

McKalvey says each of the program’s 25 volunteers is trained in first aid and CPR and meets requirements set by Pinellas County schools, which helps teachers connect with students from financially disadvantaged families, said Tom Gregory, chair of the JAM task force. 

The Rev. David Lindsay, with his wife, Grace, says the idea for the after-school arts program at Christ United Methodist Church, St. Petersburg, came to him in the middle of the night. Organizers hope the program helps the children learn about faith through the arts. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-0752.

“It’s wonderful working with the children,” said Grace Lindsay, a volunteer who helps wherever she can. “And I have two granddaughters who are in the program, and I know how much they enjoy it.”
For art class that Wednesday, the children were asked to create objects out of clay. They made anything they wanted, from penguins to pretzels. They’ll paint their clay objects during the next session.
“Nothing is wrong in art, so if they want to draw a purple pelican or whatever it’s still art and it’s still good and they didn’t do anything wrong,” said Kymberly Santopolo, the art teacher volunteer. 
Harriet DeLoach was among the homework volunteers there that day. With a smile on her face she helped one of the children understand the difference between a country and a state.
“I’ve already lived with the over-55 (years old) sets, and they were grumbling all the time,” DeLoach said. “I’ve sort of always liked to be around happy people. It felt so good sitting here talking to the children. I was glad to see their faces, and it’s going to be nice (volunteering) here.”

Reaching more children

McKalvey said there’s the possibility eight children from James Sanderlin Elementary School in St. Petersburg will soon be attending the JAM program.
“That school is 70 percent free and reduced lunch, and we wanted to reach out to a school that would need help,” she said.
Gregory said the school’s administration will help identify the students who will attend.

With the possibility of more students — Norton says there’s space for about 90 — and plans to expand the arts focus, McKalvey says, “It would be wonderful to get donations from all over the conference.”
Organizers are saving money to introduce digital photography, and they would like to purchase a $13,000 computer program that enables students to hear only themselves when they play the piano. Now, the children have access to four pianos — all in one room. The program would also allow the teacher to tune in to each student, providing individual help.

Donations would also help children attend the program and purchase materials, ranging from art supplies to snacks.
McKalvey says the children held a Christmas play to help raise needed funds. They will also hold a garage sale March 1 at the church.
Individuals who would like more information about the program may contact Christ United Methodist Church at 727-822-3343.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.

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