Grant opens up SAAC after-school programs to low-income students

Visual: Jane Webb (facing camera) draws a sun during her visual art class at the South Arkansas Arts Center, while her tablemate Maggie Woodlock practices writing numbers during the fall 2019 Arts Academy. Classes in the SAAC Arts Academy will look a little different this year, with masks required and options for virtual learning. (Caitlan Butler/News-Times)
Visual: Jane Webb (facing camera) draws a sun during her visual art class at the South Arkansas Arts Center, while her tablemate Maggie Woodlock practices writing numbers during the fall 2019 Arts Academy. Classes in the SAAC Arts Academy will look a little different this year, with masks required and options for virtual learning. (Caitlan Butler/News-Times)

Editor’s note: The SHARE Foundation recently announced grants to 11 area nonprofits focused on intervention and prevention of crime and violence through the foundation’s Union County Violence Intervention Plan (VIP). This story is part of a series of articles highlighting the programs funded, at least in part, with those grants.

Dozens of local children are able to attend the South Arkansas Arts Center’s after-school arts academy each semester, thanks to a $25,000 grant from the SHARE Foundation.

“It allows us to open about 70 scholarship spots for our academy in the spring, the summer and the fall,” SAAC Executive Director Laura Allen said. “It’s an amazing gift to us, and that is about a quarter of the kids we have, probably a little bit more, who can take classes absolutely free of charge. It really opens our classes up to kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them.”

Allen said SAAC has been teaching after school classes for more than 50 years, but due to the classes’ costs, they were limited to children whose families had the money to pay for them. With this grant, SAAC now tracks grades, attendance and other metrics.

“We’ve done that for over two years now, and [our students] have shown improvement in every category,” Allen said. “It also gives us a chance to interact with their parents and for them to interact with their parents in a healthy environment; we’ve added siblings, so now we’re getting entire families. It makes a big difference in the kids’ eyes; it’s a safe and inclusive place where everyone is welcome.”

Keeping students in the program for consecutive semesters is helpful for their long-term development as well, Allen noted.

“We love to keep them coming through the doors,” she said. “Art is really important because it teaches 21st century skills: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration — those are the things that they aren’t getting as much with how busy their schedules are and how much there is to achieve. That chance to work with other kids, work with other teachers, and build relationships with teachers is absolutely essential. It helps them feel connected to the community as a whole, so they become part of something bigger than themselves.”

Those skills will benefit children throughout their lives, no matter what they choose to do with them. Allen noted that SAAC is providing the classes not to train professional artists, but to help educate better communicators and better thinkers. Having the children on site after school gives Allen and other adults who work for and with SAAC a chance to experience various art forms through their (often critical) eyes.

“It’s really amazing; I love that they get the chance to be very much kids experiencing these things,” she said. “We take them on gallery walks, we bring school groups in to watch shows, and they experience it like kids. They have a very honest and natural reaction to that, and they tell you exactly what they think about that. They don’t pull any punches. Being able to talk about that expands their horizons, think about why someone made a creative choice builds empathy.”

Allen said support from the SHARE Foundation demonstrates the community’s respect and appreciation for the arts.

“It’s really gratifying to see that the arts are accepted and honored as something that can change and ultimately save lives,” she said. “It’s humbling to be a part of VIP, because it brings that to the front for the community. It really shows people how important arts can be.”

• About the grants: The SHARE Foundation recently announced grants to 11 area nonprofits focused on intervention and prevention of crime and violence through the foundation’s Union County Violence Intervention Plan (VIP). The grants, totaling $324,371, are the organization’s third round of VIP grants and 32nd round of grant awards overall. With the grant announcement, the SHARE Foundation has now given more than $8 million in grants and strategic initiatives to 91 different nonprofits operating in Union County, according to a press release from the organization. The grants fund items including operations, specific programs, software purchases and more.

SHARE’s VIP program began in 2018 and focuses on six areas: mentoring, re-entry, neighborhood watches/clean neighborhoods, parenting/life skills, jobs/targeted education, and mental health/substance and drug abuse.

For more details on the SHARE Foundation, visit the website at sharefoundation.com. The foundation’s Violence Intervention Plan, its strategies and intended outcomes are available to review. Contact Debbie Watts, vice president of community impact at SHARE Foundation, at 870-881-9015 for more information or to get involved.

Upcoming Events