They Don’t Come Just to Dance

 

The following story is the first in a series that will focus on LISC’s investments in community facilities and the impact we make in neighborhoods throughout Washington, DC.

On 14th Street in northwest Washington, DC, between Newton and Monroe Streets, lies a 16,000 square foot center that houses the Dance Institute of Washington (DIW)’s dance, arts education, and youth programs.

Fabian Barnes founded the DIW 30 years ago with the intent of giving DC youth opportunities to cultivate talent, confidence and discipline, and the institute continues to preserve his legacy and mission under new leadership.

The Dance Institute of Washington offers a full schedule of public performances, as well as summer and year-round programs, to youth in Washington, DC.  The DIW was once located in the Perry School building but it rapidly outgrew its space due to increased demand and new programming.

LISC provided a $19,000 grant to the DIW for the organization to hire a consultant to assess the feasibility of initiating a capital campaign for a new facility.

We also provided a $56,000 recoverable grant for predevelopment expenses and a $400,000 construction and permanent loan to the DIW for the construction of the building at its current location.

 

 

 

We recently spoke to two members of the DIW staff – Akilah Hewitt, an Outreach Manager and Teon Henderson, a Studio Manager –  about how the DIW youth develop artistically, socially, emotionally and intellectually through participation in the institute’s programs, including a Workforce Development Program and a Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP)*. This is what we learned:

 

They don’t come just to dance.

While the DIW was founded with the purpose of giving DC youth the opportunity to grow into professional dancers, youth from all areas of the city come to the DIW, because it serves as a haven, a safe place, and a second home.

“Most students are at the DIW, not to become professional dancers, but because they love the environment, have a place to do their homework, and feel safe.” – Akilah

 

You can choose your family.

The DIW staff and volunteers are mentors, counselors, friends and confidants to the youth that participate in its programs. Familial relationships are built through mutual trust and respect of the craft. Some of the youth are in transitional housing or foster care, so being at the institute on a regular basis with people they trust provides them with a sense of stability.

“Some young people do not have anyone to look up to. The Dance Insitute is a home away from home.” – Teon.

 

The DIW staff are hands-on.

Akilah and Teon meet with school principals and staff at after-school programs and host a Summer Youth Employment Program Career Fair to recruit the DIW participants. They also attend Back to School Night events at local schools, and participate in events like the H. Street Festival to garner interest and support of their programs.  If a student’s parent is unable to assist in the completion of the SYEP paperwork, then the  DIW staff helps the student.

 

The goal is for all  students to attend college or enter the workforce after leaving the DIW.

Through its Workforce Development Program, the DIW ensures that its participants are college and career-ready.  There are weekly skills-building activities that include career mapping and learning how to land an internship, write college essays, and look for academic scholarships.  The DIW students get help with creating resumes and cover letters, and participate in mock interviews. Students can participate in both the Workforce Development Program and the Summer Youth Employment Program, so some of the DIW students participate in programs year round.  All students who have “graduated” from the DIW have gone to college or landed jobs.

 

The Dance Institute of Washington is a transformative place.

When Kendra** was in the 9th grade, she began participating in the SYEP at the Dance Institute of Washington. Her home life was not good as her drug-addicted mom spent money allocated for Kendra’s college application fees.  Kendra felt hopeless and bound to her circumstances.  She almost gave up on pursuing college, not wanting to leave her younger sister behind, but Akilah stepped in.  She encouraged Kendra to continue with her academic pursuits and took Kendra to retrieve her high school transcripts.  Kendra is now a high-achieving college student.

Bianca** was a shy, always in the back of the class, distracted student at the DIW.  She felt enormous pressure to be perfect and suffered from low self-esteem.  With support from her Dance Institute family, Bianca grew in confidence and began to excel in every aspect of her life.  Today Bianca is a force to be reckoned with.  She is pursing marketing, event-planning and fashion, and earned her associate’s degree before finishing high school.  She is currently in college pursuing her bachelor’s degree.

 

Click here to hear from some current and former Dance Institute students and watch them perform.

 

The DIW is a recipient of the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Outstanding Contribution Award .

The DIW was recognized for its dedication to the District’s youth and overwhelming support of SYEP.  The first SYEP hosted by the DIW occurred in 1997.  Since then, hundreds of youth have cycled through the program, receiving breakfast and lunch, guidance, instruction, support and encouragement from their Dance Institute  family.

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* The District of Columbia’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) was founded by Marion S. Barry during his first term as Mayor in 1979. The SYEP provides DC youth ages 14 to 24 with enriching and constructive summer work experiences through subsidized placements in the private and government sectors. Employers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area make this annual program possible by volunteering to serve as Host Employers and providing structured job opportunities for youth during the summer.

** Name changed to protect identity.

Since 1993, LISC has invested nearly $23 million (via loans, grants, recoverable grants, and equity) in 53 community facility projects.  Our support of the Dance Institute of Washington is an example of how we tailor our investments to meet the diverse needs of DC residents, in this case, youth who have found a place that offers more than the opportunity to dance.