Four Worthy Local Charities Showcase The Joy & Necessity Of Giving Back

Here are the stories of four inspiring local charities that make it their mission to make life better for local children and families.

New York City is full of impactful charities that strive to create change in our local communities, our country, and the world. From creating safe spaces for LGBT youth, to helping children raised in low-income families get into competitive schools, to influencing the next great innovators in Africa, there is seemingly an organization for every needy cause. Here are the stories of four inspiring local charities that make it their mission to make life better for local children and families.

Applause Arts Foundation

NYC might be a city celebrated for its famed Theater District, but when budgets are tight, art programs are the first to get cut. As the executive director of Applause Arts Foundation (AAF), Kat Radin, works to carry out her organization’s mission of providing rigorous performance arts programming to children in the city who might not otherwise have access to such training.

AAF officially formed in September 2015, and is the bridge between kids up to age 18 who are interested in the arts but either don’t have a program at their school or can’t access one independently. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a foundation that works closely with the well-regarded music and drama program, Applause Theatrical Workshops, founded by Audrey Kaplan. The idea for AAF was sparked by Kaplan’s desire (after 20 years of success within her own company) to provide Applause’s rigorous performance arts education to all children.

Initially, AAF provided 40 high school students from some of New York City’s underserved communities with a free three-week summer intensive—comprised of singing, dancing, and acting classes—which sought to strengthen all forms of applicable and necessary life skills such as tenacity, focus, discipline, and creativity using the performing arts as a backdrop. In just a short time, the AAF has evolved to offer scholarship grants to students who wish to continue their performing arts training year round.

When its inaugural summer program ended in July 2015, several students wanted to continue training (with the AAF). Their passion inspired the AAF to create a grant program called the “Youth Artist Program.” In the fall of 2016 the AAF was proudly offered 20 scholarship grants to children of all ages who wished to continue their performing arts education throughout the year). Students qualify for the Youth Artist Program based upon their legal guardian’s income, a video submission, and the completion of a written application. While Applause is often the preferred school for applicants, scholarship grants awarded through the Youth Artist Program can be used at any performing arts training facility, for any type of performing arts training.

“Other than that, we require that they commit to showing up and demonstrate that they want to be here,” Radin says. AAF’s approach might seem somewhat unusual, but so far it has been working.

“On the first day, students often arrive, nervous, insecure and skeptical. But we hit the ground running. By the end of the day everyone has sung and danced by themselves in front of the group. Trust in themselves, trust in each other, and close bonds form almost immediately,” Radin explains. “We’re proving that any kid with any issue can be reached through the performing arts. We demand excellence, provide encouragement, and establish trust. There’s no such thing as a kid that is hopeless when it comes to their ability to learn and thrive in the arts.”

So what’s next? AAF is currently developing an afterschool performing arts program that would supplement performing arts training at schools where theater, dance, and acting programs have been cut due to budgetary or other kinds of restraints. “We want to reach students who get out of school and have nothing to do, and provide them with a creative and rigorous environment,” Radin notes. “The arts are vital and absolutely as important as math, science, history, and reading.”

In fact, though some people may believe that arts programs are not essential part of a child’s education, studies have shown without doubt that exposure to the performing arts improves academic achievement and personal development. According to the American Alliance for Theater & Education, students who participate in dramatic performances score an average of 65 points higher on the verbal component and 35 points higher on the math component of the SATs than their peers who are not involved in the arts. Drama students also have a higher and more consistent school attendance rates, graduation rates, and increased likelihood to earn a BFA.

Beyond academics, participation in the performing arts improves communication skills and builds self-confidence. Radin recalls watching the transformation of a girl named Genesis who attended the AAF’s first Summer Intensive in 2015: “For the first week she was incredibly reluctant and shy. She cried every day and refused to dance but we knew she had it in her and kept pushing her. By the end of the three weeks she performed courageously and confidently for a huge audience and is now a dynamic leader and performer. She serves as a Captain for the Applause Dance Company and is a cheerleader for other dancers that doubt themselves.”

In the short year and a half since the Foundation has come to life, Radin has already seen the positive effects it’s had on the Applause community, most notably in its diversity: “It brightens and enriches everyone’s collaborative palette,” Radin says. “In the future, we hope to see more and more artistic collaboration among people of different backgrounds, races, religion, gender, and abilities. We want to be a part of that future. This is where it starts.”

Without the arts, Radin explains, the world would lose its “greatest instructor of empathy and humanity.” The life skills cultivated by arts training enable children to “etch out the foundation of their identities and to seek out a life that makes the world a better place for them having been in it.” –Cassandra Aquart

Photo Courtesy of Applause Arts Foundation