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Creativity encouraged at new after-school arts camp

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By PENNY FLETCHER

SOUTH COUNTY — They’ve started small, but hope to grow big enough to need vans and drivers to pick up children from local schools to attend the new after-school arts camps being offered at the Sun City Center Methodist Church.

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PENNY FLETCHER PHOTOS
Caitlin Benedict instructs members of her dance class in the after school arts program at the Sun City Center United Methodist Church. The program is geared to exposing elementary-school age children to visual and performing arts. Students are, in alphabetical order, Natalia and Taina Estevez, Julia and Isabelle Jordan, and Nicole Zapata.
Currently, church ministries director Pat Hill and Valrico artist Elizabeth Parry are doing pickups in their own cars. Although they’re just going to Corr, Cypress Creek, Doby and Summerfield Crossings elementary schools at this time, they’re willing to transport any children in schools south of (and on) Big Bend Road.

“We’re looking to grow big enough to have vans and drivers,” Parry said. “We just opened Jan. 3 and want to enroll more children, attract teachers of all kinds of art and volunteers.”

The idea for the South Shore Arts Camp was developed as part of a community outreach to spread the Gospel and welcome younger families and children into their church, said Pastor Warren Langer.

Hill got on board immediately, and started the ball rolling.

Meanwhile, Langer went to his regular networking group and met Parry’s husband Jack at just the right time. He told him about the planned venture, and Jack told his wife.

“It was a perfect fit for me,” said Elizabeth Parry, who along with her husband owns Parry Design Studio, specializing in multi-media graphic design. Although they’ve been in that business 20 years, she still loves all other forms of art, and has an arts degree.

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Valrico artist Elizabeth Parry teaches a different method of art than children will learn in public school, emphasizing creativity and different kinds of expression that can be made using basic shapes. Here she helps 7-year-old Jessica Pillsbury make cards for the upcoming Sammy Rides event in which the church is taking part.
Their daughter Sarah, 15, a serious ballerina, dances with the Brandon Ballet and plans to volunteer occasionally as well.

The program’s regular dance teacher is Caitlin Benedict, who teaches two different age groups of elementary school-age girls.

“The camp is a different kind of after-school care for elementary-age children,” Parry explained. “It’s a creative approach to child care and it all works together. Music affects  dance and dance affects art. We have snacks and talk-time and physical exercise too, outside games like soccer.”

Langer said he is saddened that so many schools have cut or dropped arts programs.

“It’s unfortunate that public schools have become so centered on test results that they fail to help children develop confidence and talents. Freedom to be imaginative has disappeared from many schools.”    

The mission of the South Shore Arts Camp is threefold, Langer continued. “We do three things. Help children develop Christian values, build their self confidence, and allow them to develop their own creative imaginations.”

Music director Jeff Jordan gives piano lessons; Parry works with visual arts including drawing and art appreciation; and Benedict gives them exercise with their dance. They’re hoping to add more creative pursuits as time goes on, including jewelry making, basket weaving and yoga. Parry made it clear they’re open to other ideas from community volunteers as well.

“It’s a very safe environment,” Hill said. “All volunteers will be screened.”

The group has discovered that in many South County schools up to 90 percent of  students qualify for free lunches because of low household incomes, Langer said.

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Pastor Warren Langer hopes the program will encourage more young people to attend church because spreading the Gospel to the next generation is very important to him.
When the church began hosting a Cub Scout troop and members bought the scout uniforms, many of the boys said the uniform was the first thing they had ever worn that wasn’t a hand-me-down or bought in a used clothing store.

“They had never had anything new to wear,” Langer said. So the church members began collecting new clothing, especially underwear and socks, which are currently piled in a room and used for give-aways.

Now, a Girl Scout troop also meets there too. Langer said he wants South County residents to know the church welcomes youth and families even though it is located in a retirement community.

They rely heavily on donations for the things they do but are also in the process of applying for grants.

“We have to invest in our country’s children,” Langer said. “We need to help them develop their creativity. What made America strong was our creativity. Other countries may refine what we’ve created, or find cheaper ways to make something, but we’re the ones that came up with the ideas. If we don’t ensure creativity in the next generation, our nation will decline, and if we decline, the world will decline.”

In addition to drawing, music, dance and other arts, the children will do character-based activities that will help their self-esteem and teach them Christian values.

The “day camp” is open Monday through Friday starting with pickup at schools until 6:30 p.m. and all day on a week day if school is closed. There will also be a summer camp beginning June 13, Hill said.

The program won’t be open this year during spring break however, because the staff is still too small to have people to fill in if anyone takes a vacation.

The church is being very supportive, sharing rooms used for other things and helping financially and with donations of talent and materials Hill said.

But to expand, more help will be needed. 

Rates are comparable to other private after-school programs in the area.

For more information or to register a student, contact Hill at (813) 634-2539 or Parry at (813) 817-1662.

Or visit the church at 1210 Del Webb Blvd. W., Sun City Center.

 

 

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