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Friday, Nov 28, 2014
Northeast News

Program transforms youth through visual, performing arts


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UNIVERSITY AREA – It’s not always easy being a kid.

Trying to establish a positive self-image and find value in the world around you can be difficult, especially if you’re exposed to an environment known to breed bad behavior with often serious consequences.

That’s where the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program can step in to help, say organizers. It’s open to children from 7 to 17. Through various visual and performing arts, it’s meant to instill important life skills such as effective communication, problem solving and conflict resolution.

Established under the umbrella of the University Area Community Development Corporation and funded by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Prodigy uses music, art and dance as a means to help students better understand and express themselves.

It serves 3,200 youth in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Sarasota and Orange counties.

“We pretty much consider all kids to be at risk and they come from all walks of life,” said UACDC Chief Programs Officer Trancell Ward. “The program is a tool to help them make positive choices … and it builds a lot of confidence in these kids.”

To showcase the work of the students, Prodigy hosted a recent open house at the UACDC center in Tampa for parents, friends and others interested in learning more about the program.

Those who came saw a variety of artwork, including dance performances choreographed with the help of an assistant instructor who is a product of Prodigy.

Thanks to his link up with the program as a teen, the now 21-year-old young man, whose named is being withheld due to the program’s privacy protection policy, is living his dream.

As a part-time staffer he works 20 hours per week, teaching hip-hop and break dancing classes at the University Area Community Center, the New Tampa YMCA and Mort Elementary School.

Some of his students, he said, have struggles with anger management and problem solving similar to some of the issues he once had.

“They look up to me as an adult role model but I can speak their language,” he said.

He’s never had a day when he hasn’t wanted to go to work.

“It’s meant the world to me to get this opportunity to do something I love.”

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at joycecmckenzie@gmail.com.

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