Jul 17, 2014
01:11 PMConnecticut Today
Connecticut Ballet’s Juvenile Justice Outreach Program Makes an Impact
(page 3 of 4)
In the beginning, the Juvenile Justice Outreach Program was funded by The Tow Foundation, a family foundation focused on investing in nonprofit organizations and the systems that help vulnerable populations and individuals. For nearly 10 years, the foundation consistently backed Connecticut Ballet’s outreach efforts, which allowed the program to grow. They were able to cultivate a large and diverse faculty of teaching artists and purchase props and instruments–like the djembe drums (below)—with money from the foundation.
“That seed was so crucial,” Raphael says.
In 2011, the Tow Foundation decided to move on and fund other organizations. While he is thankful for the decade of consistent support, Raphael admits that finding backers since the Tow Foundation bowed out has been difficult.
“Over the last three to four years there’s been a slow but steady decline in monies available and organizations funding this area,” says Raphael. “The big sexy programs get funded and others go by the wayside.”
Connecticut Ballet’s program has a relatively small reach, sometimes only impacting a handful of individuals at each facility, but it makes a difference to those kids. Additionally, the relative size of these programs means that it doesn’t take much to fund them, and consistent funding is key. Having someone give this year and not offer it next year is almost more hurtful than not getting funding at all because it builds expectations, says Raphael.
“Sometimes $10,000 can make a yearlong program. The price tag doesn’t come close to what it takes to incarcerate a youth for a year,” he says. “Give $5,000 for a half-year program. Do something, don’t do nothing.”
Starting in 2005, the organization was under contract with State of Connecticut's Judicial Branch (DOJ), providing year-round classes at the Bridgeport Detention Center, SAGE Center for Girls in Hamden, the New Haven Detention Center, the Hartford Detention Center and the Washington Street Detention Center for Girls in Hartford. That contract lasted for seven years.
While the organization was still partnering with the DOJ, Raphael initiated a partnership with DCF to offer programs in its residential living facilities. The goal was to “follow” the youth from detention centers to their semi-permanent locations. This would give instructors the opportunity to lead longer workshops and have a more lasting impact on the residents.
The partnership with DCF now emphasizes health and wellness—a priority of the department for the last three to four years, according to Tammy Sneed, who works in DCF’s Division of Adolescent and Juvenile Justice Services. Dr. Brett Rayford, former division head of Adolescent Services for DCF, championed the partnership. Connecticut Ballet also prioritizes health and wellness in all facets of its company, from the contracted dancers to the assemblies they run in area schools. It seemed like a natural fit for the two entities to pair up on this issue.
Sneed calls their partnership “a great collaborative project.”
“We’re combining the arts with reducing obesity,” says Raphael.
DCF has helped facilitate conversations with interested parties in order to reach as many people as possible. The agency also utilizes federal dollars to fund programs when possible, though Sneed says they currently don’t have any to do so.
Sneed works primarily with Connecticut Ballet on statewide events like a rehearsal at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in July (above). The kids got an opportunity to see three pieces before they were premiered at Riverfront Recapture. For some, it was the first time watching professional ballet dancers. After the performance, they had the opportunity to ask questions about the dances and the artists.
“[Brett] was able to talk about the health and wellness of the dancers, to show that exercise and eating right is just as important to dancers as it is to them,” says Sneed, adding that making those connections is crucial.
“Mainstream kids get to see assembly programs,” explained Raphael (above), who advocates for kids in the juvenile justice system to get equal exposure to the arts. For them, it can be even more important. “We have an ongoing commitment to provide tickets to that population,” he says.
“We’ve found a niche and we hope to see it get out there,” says Raphael. “We want to just sustain it, even if we only serve 100 kids a year.”