A retired performing arts teacher, Sharron Lewis wanted to continue to empower youth through the arts. She had seen students who had taken her dance classes or engaged in other arts for the first time flourish, and she imagined creating opportunities for youth outside of school.
In 2016, Lewis and Maudie Wilson founded the nonprofit organization Empower You Education. The organization has a mission to break down the social and economic barriers that keep youth from experiencing the arts. The programming weaves in themes of social justice to help youth find and use their voice. Students explore the arts and the power of their own messaging through poetry, song, improvisation, dance and theater.
“I want to make sure things are affordable,” Lewis said. “When I grew up my family couldn’t afford classes for me and I wanted to make sure that our kids have these opportunities.”
Empower You Edutainment offers afterschool programming in the Riverside Unified School District. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization served students through Zoom. Programs were adjusted to use the arts to help children manage the stress of weathering a pandemic. Participants learned to express their stress levels through a program called “Wade in the Water” where they discussed if they were ankle-deep or knee-deep in their anxiety, giving them tools to become more self-aware and grounded.
The organization also presented a play by students during the pandemic called Silent Tears, which addressed coping with isolation. The play explored what it was like for students to be schooling at home. According to Lewis, some students had lost loved ones and had pain they didn’t know how to express. Working on this production helped them explore and express these feelings in a way that was specific to their experiences.
In the past, the organization has also presented student plays on Kwanzaa, Black History Month, bullying and systemic racism.
Currently, Empower You Edutainment is working with about 12 students and works with up to 35 kids. Their ages range from elementary to high school students, and all collaborate to put on performances. These productions are often a family affair, with parents and grandparents participating in the plays. Students also spend time with professionals in the arts to hone their skills and confidence.
“Parents say they see a lot of growth in their kids in being more confident in themselves,” Lewis said. “And we empower others, not only our youth when we do plays and community theater.”
Recently the organization received a grant from the Community Impact Fund through the IECF. Empower You Education is run entirely by volunteers and depends on the support of volunteers as well as grant funding and individual giving to support its programs.
Currently, the organization is working on launching a program for youth before they return to school that will include a wellness component. Using poetry, Lewis plans to give the students tools they can use to regroup every day and support their mental well-being.
Empower You Edutainment works primarily within the city of Riverside but will work with students throughout the Inland Empire and doesn’t turn anyone down. The programming is free, and currently meeting in person at the Bourns Family Youth Innovation Center from 12 pm to 4 pm on Saturdays. Those interested in participating in future programming can contact the organization for more information.
“We are a visionary group and a little bit out of the box,” Lewis said. “We are on a shoestring budget, so it’s hard to get the word out. We want more of the community to know about the work we do and join us.”
More information: (213) 359-8639 or empoweryouedutainment.org
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