The first example of these incredible gifts is the charming recital that was held for the public, neighborhood families and friends, and our staff. With the intent of displaying all that was learned in the last semester, the marvelous works of art displayed proudly included gorgeous paintings, photographs, sewing projects, and performances. The children played guitar, piano, and drums for a significantly large crowd. They performed a variety of types of dance, including ballet, hip hop, the gorgeous folkloric Mexican dance, and the increasingly popular breakdancing by Aerial Tactic. Members of the audience were smiling, clapping, laughing, and cheering, demonstrating that the richness of their culture spread to everyone in the room, giving them rewards much greater than any gold could. This lively celebration not only allowed the community to see the work and artistic expression of the children in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood, but also shed light on the extraordinary culture that surrounds the center every single day.
The second gift that the children of the Cook Arts Center gave to the community of Grand Rapids came from a very unique, unexpected opportunity. As a result of a collaboration with donor who lives at a beautiful local retirement community, Beacon Hill, the boys men of the Aerial Tactic breakdance crew were invited to perform for the senior citizens living there. The afternoon started with the crew setting up their special mat while the crowd began to filter into the room. They seemed unsure of what was going to happen next, but after a brief introduction of the students, the dynamic dancing began. The audience, encouraged to make noise if they enjoyed the moves that they were seeing, proved to be one of the most active, participatory groups that the crew ever performed for. With their laughter, their “ooh’s and ahh’s” and their encouragement toward the young ones to dance their hearts out, a unique, unprecedented energy filled the room. Later, many of the seniors enthusiastically inquired about a variety of things such as, “What is the history of break dancing?”, “How do you keep from hurting yourself?”, and “How does this help with your schoolwork?” The kids and their teacher spoke eloquently to the curious audience, telling them that dance practice taught them discipline, self-esteem, and the payoff of hard work. One student in particular, Antonio, has expressed that breakdancing completely changed his life. This is a primary example of the myriad of gifts that these incredibly talented young people possess, and how the Cook Arts Center provides them a key to unlock them. Moreover, it highlights just a fragment of the potential that they have to make an impact on the community at large, and ultimately, the world.
All in all, when thinking of gifts, it is important to remember that they do not always come in the form of physical things. Thus, the Cook Arts Center’s assistance to the youth of the Grandville Avenue area is not a one-way street. Although it is true that we continue to carry out the mission of enriching the lives of neighborhood youth through diverse and engaging programs at the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center, it is also true that they enhance ours immensely in return. Without the neighborhood’s incredible culture, sense of family, ability to celebrate joyously, and the talents of the children, the Grand Rapids community would be lacking tremendously. The Cook Arts Center’s partnership with the remarkable families in this neighborhood allows the students here to discover, develop, and display their artistic talents, which in turn inspires us to help them become the leaders of tomorrow.