Columbia honored at White House

By BenitaZepeda

It was an intimate gathering at the White House on Oct. 20 as 15 community-based programs were awarded the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, presented by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Columbia’s own after-school program, Center for Community Arts Partnerships: Community Schools Initiative, was one of the award recipients. It not only is the highest honor for these types of programs in the U.S., but also includes a $10,000 grant and a year of communications and capacity-building support which help increase each program’s visibility and provide direction on how to utilize the award to its full potential.

Obama greeted the crowd with a speech at the beginning of the ceremony and addressed the individual recipients while stressing the importance of programs such as CCAP, and the individuals who work in them.

“But against all the odds, you have kept going,” Obama said. “You have kept teaching, mentoring and innovating because you know, like all of us know, that these programs, programs like yours, can help our young people expand their imaginations and tap into their creativity.”

Established in 1998, CCAP provides partnerships between Columbia and community schools and community-based organizations, allowing for education quality to improve through various programs.

April Langworthy, associate director of School Partnerships and Community Schools, said the program aims to develop partnerships with schools and to help parents engage and understand what their children are learning.

“A majority of what we do is the arts because we believe in the transformative power of the arts,” Langworthy said. “We also know that the arts don’t do everything that a child might need.”

The program is an educational platform for at-risk youth and students who are from low-income families and communities who have the chance of gang-activity involvement. Langworthy said sometimes the program helps students fulfill their basic needs.

“By being a partner in the schools that works deeply with the kids, we sometimes might know something about the children that the school might not know,” Langworthy said. “We also work to develop partnerships with other organizations that can help meet some basic needs, sometimes we help students get eye glasses or dental services they might need.”

This year, the program has 1,200 kids within the Community Schools partnerships. Several of the people who deliver the programs at the various schools are Columbia faculty, students and alumni.

The award is a program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and was presented in partnerships with the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Langworthy said she hopes this award will help spread the word about CCAP, raise funding and create awareness of the important work that is done with students and allow for a platform to talk about the program more.

“We would like to use this award to be able to have ourselves out there at the college and find those people who are interested in sharing their gifts, engaging in the community and working with us to help make a difference in the lives of the youth,” Langworthy said. “

Jessica Pillot, a 13-year-old CCAP participant, attended the ceremony and accepted the award with David Flatley, executive director of Center for Community Arts Partnerships, from Obama. She said she has participated in programs, such as photography, cheerleading and Caribbean dance.

“It was fun,” Pillot said. “It can teach you how to become a better person and make you realize things.”

She also said she wasn’t nervous at the ceremony that she attended with her grandmother, but it wasn’t what she had expected. Several prominent actors and actresses who are supporters and private members of PCAH were also in attendance, such as Forest Whitaker, Edward Norton, Kerry Washington and Sarah Jessica Parker.

“I didn’t expect [the ceremony] to be that much, but it was,” Pillot said. “Everybody was really nice and friendly.”

Flatley said the award is going to help CCAP gain recognition, but credits the people involved with the program for its success.

“It means an enormous amount to us because we are working hard to try and impact the lives of these youth,” Flatley said. “To be recognized in this way, nationally, and at this level is a vote of confidence…a validation for our work. This award, of course, goes to everyone at CCAP. It honors the Community Schools initiative in particular, but it lifts up the entire organization…and all of the people who make it what it has become over the years.”