In 1998, a man named Rollin Wehman established a professional theater in southern Stafford County. The Riverside Center Dinner Theater provided patrons with a quality performing arts experience, and it has continued to do so under its new title as the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Similar in name but completely different in structure, The Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts (RFPA), is a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt public charity. Founded in 2006 by concerned members of the Fredericksburg community, the RFPA responded to a critical need for resources to enable exposure to and training in the performing arts by underprivileged demographic segments of local community members. Specifically, these founding members had a vision for the children in the greater Fredericksburg region: they wanted them to experience the joy that theater brings to people’s lives. As the new Managing Director of the RFPA, I am fully committed to this goal. But I need your help bringing this joy to as many of our local children as possible. No other organization is as well-prepared or equipped to handle this task, and the time to move forward with this important community endeavor is now.
The number of economically disadvantaged families in our region is, unfortunately, growing and many of the children in these homes are hardly able to purchase basic necessities, much less buy tickets to a play. We at the Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts believe that the performing arts is an important part of a child’s education, as it contributes to building positive self-esteem and promotes good problem solving and team building skills. Our mission is to promote, enhance, and fund the awareness of and participation in the performing arts by children of all economic levels as:
An avenue for educational and personal growth;
A means of enhancing personal self-esteem through expression of native and developing talents;
A vehicle for therapeutic exercise in maintaining optimal mental/physical health.
In addition, the Foundation seeks to provide tangible resources, inclusive of personal training and print, audio and visual materials for participative programs in drama, music, dance, education, and aesthetic self-expression. But most of all, we want kids to have fun and experience the magic of being onstage or watching the curtain rise as the house lights dim.
For the past eight years, the RFPA has offered a summer camp for economically disadvantaged children. The main goal of the Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts Summer Camp is to provide musical theater training to low income and at-risk children, many of whom come from various Family Life organizations in the area, including Stafford Junction, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Agape Preparatory Academy, and The Salvation Army. The training they receive is a strong vehicle which enables the participants to increase their individual self-esteem, to focus on their abilities, and to develop an interest in the cultural arts. The camp also gives the children a safe and meaningful activity to fill the void of summer, when they are not in school (some of the children live in areas prevalent to crime). The camp provides a light breakfast and a nutritious hot lunch daily for all participants. There is no cost to attend the camp; the only expense children and their families incur is daily transportation to and from The Riverside Center.
The children participate in music (voice), choreography, and acting training sessions. During the two week camp, participants also rehearse for the end of camp Showcase, which is a live public performance held on the last day.
Camp instructors are all working professionals, usually assisted by college students who are also involved in advanced theater training. Each instructor works with the children to help them master musical theater techniques. Positive reinforcement is a staple among camp staff and all of the children are encouraged to develop their own unique talents. Many of the campers are initially shy, but with the help of the instructors they soon become more outgoing and active. Some campers who have low self-esteem learn how they, too, can shine onstage just like the other children.
This year’s 8th annual camp was the largest yet, with over 40 children in attendance. The Foundation wants to revamp and change some facets of next year’s camp, including offering a morning session for younger students and an afternoon session for older students. Other changes include offering an online registration form, a more structured camp curriculum, and a formal camp counselor internship for a well-qualified young adult. The Foundation is also considering moving to a bigger rehearsal space where it can accommodate more children. If this happens, additional staff would be required. We do not want to turn away any child who wants to attend the camp.
The Riverside Foundation is a positive link between these children and keeping them out of harm’s way by offering a vehicle for them to discover the cultural arts and how they can use this training to improve their understanding of a more positive use of their time and energies. In order to meet the demand of the large number of children who want to attend this year’s camp, we need your financial support now. We cannot wait. Won’t you help provide a safe place this summer for needy local children to explore the performing arts?
Because the need for these types of programs in the greater Fredericksburg region is growing, the Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts began a new program last year which specifically targeted Title I schools in our area. Many of the students in these schools come from low-income families who simply cannot afford to purchase tickets to a play.
The Riverside Foundation, in conjunction with the Rappahannock Rotary Club, proudly sponsored two classes from Berkeley Elementary School in Spotsylvania to attend the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts Children’s Production of Narnia. We would love to expand this program to invite more local students from Title I schools to come experience the joy of live theater. According to a 2014 study conducted by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, field trips to live theater enhance literary knowledge, tolerance, and empathy among students. Your tax-deductible donation will allow us to be able to sponsor these children who would otherwise probably not have an opportunity to see a live play.
Our largest project in progress here at the Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts involves planning and launching a local high school musical theater awards contest. The purpose of these awards will be to recognize, reward and encourage talent and achievement in musical theater among high school students within the Fredericksburg region. This awards program will also be a means to highlight the importance of musical theater and arts education within our extended community. One of the most important aspects of this awards ceremony will be offering several scholarships to local high school seniors who are going to major in some aspect of the performing arts. Would you like to sponsor one of these prized scholarships? If you have a passion for helping our local teenagers achieve their dreams of entering the professional performing arts arena, then we would love to have your support in establishing one of these awards. Or perhaps you would like to honor a beloved family member who had a love of acting, singing, or dancing. What better way to honor his or her memory than to name a scholarship after him or her? We need your assistance now to determine how many scholarships we will have in the inaugural year of the awards ceremony, which will occur in 2018.
Many children in the greater Fredericksburg region have never experienced the joy of either seeing a professional play or being onstage themselves. They haven’t had the chance to get lost in a world of creative delight and imaginative wonder. We feel that this hinders their ability to grow into well-rounded adults because they are missing an important part of a balanced education strictly due to their financial difficulties. In addition, many local high school students who have experienced the joy of being part of a school production need help in order to pursue their professional careers. By supporting The Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts, you will not only give our local children joy, but you will experience it yourself. We welcome you to attend the final day Summer Camp Showcase to see firsthand the excitement and delight on the campers’ faces as they experience the euphoria of being onstage. Or stop into a children’s theatre production during lunch to visit with the students from our Title I school sponsored field-trip. I promise you that their elated faces hold an element of exhilaration in anticipation of what’s going to appear on that stage in front of them. And when the house lights dim and they start to cheer, a moment of magic enters into their hearts as they lose themselves in the beauty of live theatre. It’s a moment many of them will not soon forget, and you can help make these kinds of moments a reality for these youngsters. Won’t you help bring joy to our local children?