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Duo introduces arts to underprivileged kids

Ashlyn Hunter and Sharisa You

Duo introduces arts to underprivileged kids

By Kaila Mellos

Two young Scripps Ranch locals have created a project that is helping bring the arts to those around the country who might not have the chance to experience them in schools traditionally.

Sharisa You and Ashlyn Hunter started a nonprofit organization called Inspiring Tomorrow’s Performers to help give some children a fair chance at discovering art forms, including dance and music.

“Every time there’s funding cuts in schools, performing arts programs and visual arts programs are the first to go,” You said. “Many schools don’t even have performing arts programs, and it’s even worse in low-income districts.”

The two, who have known each other since eighth grade, are now going into their senior year at The Bishop’s School. They find they have had the same experience with being involved in the arts.

“We have had a great experience with dance and performing arts. That’s our source of creativity and kind of like our safe haven,” You explained. “We wanted to give that opportunity that we had to other kids who don’t have that opportunity.”

When they began this nonprofit, it was hard for them to get the classes going because of their age and certain restrictions. They found that when the pandemic started, they could utilize Zoom to get these classes to everyone and avoid the issues they had in getting the arts to kids who wanted to learn.

“We started it on Zoom, and that’s when we started holding dance workshops and different kinds of performing arts with new guest teachers once we got enough kids,” Hunter said. 

Even with Zoom, they had some issues trying to get a school to commit to having them host a class for their students. They were lucky enough to meet a teacher from San Jose who believed in their program enough to give them their start.

“She went to a performing arts high school, and she saw our vision and believed in us. She gave us the opportunity to work with her kids,” You said. “From that experience, it made parents trust us more, and that’s how we were able to start our nonprofit. Now, we’re able to work with kids all across the country and are not tied down to a certain school.”

You and Hunter have worked with kids from nine different states around the country. 

This summer, they also started a couple of summer camp programs. The first one was a dance-specific one, and the second was an immersion in the arts course. 

“Each day was a different performing art or just art in general. So, we had different guest artists come in, so they weren’t experiencing the same teachers,” Hunter said of the immersion camp. “A lot of our teachers from our school’s performing arts section come in and teach lessons and different key facts about their art.”

Both their camps were very popular, and they received a lot of feedback from the students.

“The feedback we get is really rewarding. Some kids have told us, ‘Oh, we want you to do more summer camps.’ ‘Can they be longer?’ ‘When’s the next class starting?’” You said. “Our hard work that goes into putting these workshops on and planning them feels rewarding when you get this feedback that the kids love it. Also, to see them grow, especially in a short amount of time, is amazing.”

Since summer is coming to an end, the camps have stopped. But You and Hunter planned to start what they call their “Sunday Workshops” for the fall.

To learn more, or to volunteer, visit itperformers.org.