“A tutu has magical powers,” said Pat Martin, referring to a ballet costume. “It makes a little girl feel beautiful.”
That observation, made many years ago, moved the former behavioral psychology nurse to help children develop through the performing arts, culminating with a center opened in DeKalb County last week.
Now, little girls will have more than tutus at their creative disposal. Acting, dance, singing, instrument instruction and even karate classes are available to all children at the center–fulfilling Martin’s long-held dream, 15 years in the making.
“It’s so wonderful to have our own facility,” she said. “By having more space now, it means we can have more kids.”
The KIDDS Center for Youth Development and Performing Arts in Lithonia, which received a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant last year, is more than a practice space.
Martin, the executive director, said it’s a safe place for kids to positively spend time after class, and fills a much-needed void left by a school system experiencing spending cuts in arts programs.
She points to Stephenson High School student April Mccallister as an example of KIDDS’ value.
Things for Mccallister, by her own admission, “were really looking down” before enrolling in the center.
After seeing her 4-year-old sister in a KIDDS production, she decided to “knock on Miss Pat’s door” and inquire about acting classes.
Her first role was Oprah Winfrey. “I enjoyed it. I was shy the first day but I overcame my shyness,” she said. “Being an actress is something I really want to do in life.”
Mccallister’s mother, too, has noticed a transformation. “It has provided my 16-year-old a road that she has never explored before,” said Ivy Mccallister. “It gave her the ability to channel her emotions through acting.”
In the past year, April Mccallister has become a valuable part of the KIDDS team, spending weekday evenings at the center, helping with staff projects and receiving classes. Her grades, too, have significantly improved.
“April came [to us] as a troubled child and has made a 360 degree turn,” said Martin. “It’s the greatest evidence of why I do what I do.”
The KIDDS story started 15 years ago, when Martin quit nursing to start a day care center. Independently, she ran an arts program that annually holds productions at the Rialto Theater in downtown Atlanta. Practices and rehearsals were done at a church. Looking for ways to expand KIDDS, she applied for grants for several years with mixed success–until her birthday two years ago.
“That turned my life around,” she said. “They [Pepsi] announced they were giving away $1 million a month.” Then, last April, KIDDS was awarded the grant for the center, which has computers, a recording studio and entertainment options such as a PlayStation–keeping kids occupied as they wait to rehearse or practice.
Helping to attract the donors was the program’s underlying commitment to enhance the lives of its children. “The center gives kids a place to express their feelings and emotions,” said Martin. “They channel energy into something positive. That’s what we’re doing.”