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Local church supports at-risk students

3/27/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Westminster Presbyterian hosting special arts program

The Infinite Legacy Project, based at Westminster Presbyterian Church, allows students who respond to dance classes in the Akron After School program to continue their studies.
Shown are some of the dance students from the Infinite Legacy Project performing at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which will host a performance during the March 30 service at 10:30 a.m.
Photos courtesy of Infinite Legacy Project
WEST AKRON — A special performance during the 10:30 a.m. service at Westminster Presbyterian Church March 30 will help the congregation there see the direct result of its donations to an annual appeal.

Through One Great Hour of Sharing, a program that the Presbyterian Church participates in with other Christian denominations, funding has been provided to support the Infinite Legacy Project, a program that engages at-risk Akron students with performing arts instruction. The program, a humanities-based outreach program of Pointe West Performances, has been based at the church since 2011, according to artistic director Suzanne Winland, of West Akron.

William Melver, a West Hill resident and moderator of a Presbyterian USA program called Self Development of People (SDOP), said the local group obtained $4,400 in SDOP grant funding for the after-school program.

“We are so honored to be a part of something like this, especially with SDOP’s mission,” Winland said. “Culture is one of the most powerful ways to engage people. Self-expression can become a vehicle for learning. You see families come in, and they’ve never engaged in something like this. They love the community at Westminster.”

Melver said church member Tom Koutnik, a new member of the SDOP committee, was the one who suggested the Infinite Legacy Project for funds.

“We’re always looking for applicants,” Melver said. “If we don’t find qualified applicants, the money goes back to PC-USA. There have been years when the money had to go back because we couldn’t find qualified candidates.”

Previously, grant funding has been given to the Front Porch Café of South Street Ministries and Fathers and Sons of Northeast Ohio, he said.

Melver said the Infinite Legacy Project is a good fit for the funding.

“It’s a real manifestation of the ministry at work,” he said. “When we ask people to contribute to One Great Hour of sharing, we have a way of saying here is how that money is coming back. Students engage in a new way of expressing themselves and get renewed energy about being good students.”

Winland said the Infinite Legacy Project grew out of her work in the Akron After School program in the Akron Public Schools.

“It’s an outgrowth of the professional conservatory’s outreach in the Akron After School program that formally came into being when we decided to give scholarships in 2009,” she said. “In 2007 we proposed doing extra dance classes because so many kids were responding to all these things.”

Winland’s company provides scholarships for those youths to attend Infinite Legacy Project classes at Westminster. About 50 students are currently involved, she said.

There are two aspects of the program that Winland said she is especially proud of. The first is that the program has been able to bring guest artists from throughout the United States and abroad to assist with performances.

She is also happy the program has been able to present its annual performances at the Akron-Summit County Main Library free of charge. The next program, “Alice in Wonderland,” is scheduled for June 17 and will feature guest dancer Caroline Amer, an Akron native who now lives in England.

“Children start out with a sense of their neighborhood, then are exposed to all of Akron, then the world,” Winland said.

She added she’s been able to see the impact the program has on its participants, who are able to work their way up through the ranks to become teachers themselves. Currently she has two students from East Community Learning Center who are standout students.

The March 30 event at the church is open to the public. Westminster Presbyterian is located at 1250 W. Exchange St.

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