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Local Arts Program Lends a Hand to Disadvantaged Youth

Posted Feb. 20, 2012 | Jessica Smeltz
enter photo description
Youth in the Arts Alive! program share their words during
the 2011 Giving Voice performance at Kent State University.

(Photo by David LaBelle)

Kent State University faculty, staff and students, along with the Kent community, help shape the lives of Portage County’s youth through the Arts Alive! program, an initiative of Portage County Youth Development Program of Family and Community Services. Several Kent State programs, including art, English, foreign language and nonprofit management, and the Wick Poetry Center have all contributed to the success of the Arts Alive! program.

The program, which is run solely on community volunteer work and donations, serves disadvantaged youth in the community from all socioeconomic backgrounds, by letting them join in the activities free of charge. School-enrolled children participate after school to improve and learn new artistic skills, and also how to work independently and as part of a team. They learn how to express themselves positively and effectively through art, poetry and music.

Laura Wynn, youth arts coordinator and mentor, launched the Arts Alive! program in 2007. The program is offered year round with three major workshops — winter/spring, summer and fall — for 10 weeks each. Students have the opportunity to learn and improve drawing, painting, writing and photography skills. They also learn nontraditional skills, such as sculpting, ceramics, yoga and meditation, as well as a community garden project where they learn how to grow and care for a garden and about healthy eating habits.

“The program is important to the community; we’re working to fill that gap between the arts, students and their schools,” says Wynn. “This is an opportunity for a rich mentoring relationship for students who can’t afford to pay for arts programs or are looking to get more involved with the community.”

Students Learn Photography
Photography Professor David LaBelle, of Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, had a chance to work with the students in the program last summer. He taught a four-week intensive photography workshop where students learned the basics of photography. The cameras that students used were purchased with donations. At the end of the course, the youth development program held a fundraiser where students were able to sell their art to the community.

LaBelle expresses how much he enjoyed interacting with the children and young adults during the workshop, saying that it was fascinating to learn how they “see the world.”

“I was impressed with how much these young people actually learned in such a short period of time,” LaBelle says. “Seeing the pictures they have made into prints and even sold does wonders for an individual's self-esteem.”

Youth Express Themselves Through Poetry
In addition to working with Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, students in the Arts Alive! program were invited by Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center to participate in the Giving Voice reading. The reading will comprise poems inspired by the Arts Alive! poetry workshops, which are conducted by Kent State students in late February. Students in the program will work with Kent State students to combine lines from individual poems into one larger poem that they can present as a whole during the reading.

“We really value our work with Arts Alive! and believe in the deep impact expressive writing can have in the students’ lives,” says David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center. “By connecting with their own authentic voices, they can tell and gain insights into their own life stories.”

LaBelle and Hassler agree that the program is successful due to Wynn, her aids and all the volunteer students who put so much heart into the projects.

Program offers learning opportunities for Kent State students
Currently, Arts Alive! is hosting an intern from the Writing Intern Program, for its fifth consecutive year, to assist in writing workshops and grant writing.

“The program taught me a lot,” says Emily Woods, last semester’s intern.

Students in Kent State nonprofit management program also have a chance to learn at Arts Alive! by observing and recording the workshops to see firsthand how nonprofit organizations function. The program is also making ties with the staff and students in the art and foreign language departments to develop more diverse and educational workshops.

For more information about the Arts Alive! program, contact Wynn at or visit its website at