Strengthening Family Bonds Through The Arts

Originally published in Fort Myers Florida Weekly August 29, 2018

MBarlowHeadshotBY MELISSA BARLOW
Director of Arts and Community Programs The Heights Center

The Heights Center is a 2018 recipient of a Southwest Florida Community Foundation Arts, Community and Culture Community Impact Grant. This grant has allowed the center to develop affordable and accessible music, art, theater and dance classes for children and adults from the Harlem Heights neighborhood and surrounding areas. Through classes, productions, performances, recitals, and workshops our participants reap the benefits of involvement in the arts — both on an individual and community level.

Harlem Heights was originally settled as a rural agricultural community. Approximately 780 children live in a mixture of single-family homes and multifamily apartments. Demographically, the population is approximately 70 percent Hispanic, 20 percent African- American, and 8 percent Caucasian. The poverty rate for children in Harlem Heights is more than twice the county average, with family income 40 percent below the county average. Families are not able to easily access family support services located in downtown Fort Myers, and benefit greatly from programs located within the neighborhood.

Removing the geographical barrier and transportation challenges for residents of the Harlem Heights community allows them to participate in programming within a community setting that has been shown to improve attitudes and form behaviors that promote school and work and reduce dropout rates. These classes provide opportunities to develop self-discipline and increase self-efficacy, to collaborate with others, develop personal creativity and to identify activities that reduce personal stress and promote a work/life balance.

Providing a sliding scale tuition rate based on family income allows even the most economically disadvantaged families the opportunity to experience and participate in the creative arts. The 14,000-square-foot community center also provides accessible, affordable performance and rehearsal spaces for participants. Gallery space provides an avenue to exhibit works created by arts programming participants.

Edgardo is a kindergarten student at the Harlem Heights Community Charter School. The school, located within The Heights Center, is a K-3, small school environment that focuses on individualized learning and the development of core academic skills.

Edgardo is learning to play the violin because of his participation in Musicworks! at The Heights Center’s After School program. Musicworks! is a collaboration with The Gulf Coast Symphony that provides one and a half hours of daily instrumental music education to 42 children. Students learn to play an orchestral instrument with emphasis on high-level achievement and musical growth, and develop goal-directed behavior and skills that increase their academic and social success. MusicWorks! is also supported in part by a grant from The Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

Edgardo is also enrolled in our children’s keyboard class. The class was made possible by the SWFCF grant. His father, Edgardo Sr., played music years ago, and wanted to learn to read music so he and his son could enjoy playing music together. Edgardo Sr. enrolled in our adult keyboard class.

“I am happy that my son is learning to play instruments at an early age,” said Edgardo Sr. “This will be something he can benefit from his whole life. It would not have been possible for us to participate without the affordable pricing and location of classes in our neighborhood. These classes allow us the opportunity to have a shared interest that we can enjoy together for years to come.”

To learn more about arts classes at The Heights Center, contact me at 482-7706 or Melissa@heightsfoundation.org.

— This summer, Florida Weekly and the Southwest Florida Community Foundation are spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the foundation’s 2018 competitive grant cycle. The foundation serves Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. For more information, call 274- 5900 or see www.floridacommunity.com.