CREATING MAGIC MOMENTS FOR ALL CHILDREN (and Remarkable Pamela Arkin)

In the competitive world of performance arts, talent, perfect bodies and the willingness to rehearse for hours surprises no one. But when the performers are children and the director has the added responsibility of encouraging those with the potential to be stars, what happens to the children with limitations? All too often these children never experience the thrill of applause or what it’s like to feel like a star.

BELIEF IN CHILDREN AS ARTISTS

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Pamela Arkin, who has been doing theatre for 45 years, is helping to change things for that special group of children. She believes that performance allows a child to express her “true self,” even when her body isn’t perfect, her ability is limited by disease or deformity, or her mental level or psychological development will never be considered normal.

Pam sees all children as innate, talented performers, and believes they begin life as artists until the typical American school takes this away from them and convinces them they could never be on stage.

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ARTISTIC ADVISOR

Retired barely one year as a Theatre Professor at Longwood University in Virginia, and the winner of a meritorious achievement in Directing award from the Kennedy Center- American College Theater Festival, 67 year old Pam is the Artistic Advisor for a performance program called Live Art.

LIVE ART & SPARC

The umbrella sponsor is a well-established and highly regarded organization called SPARC—School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community. Its goal is “to profoundly influence students’ lives… every child that we come in contact with.”

Very few metropolitan areas of Richmond’s size have successful, viable, stand-alone performing arts education organizations, and few such organizations have such broad and holistic educational programs as SPARC.

PAM’S EXPERIENCE

Pam’s experiences as a director and actor has provided her with endless ideas for assisting in the staging of the current musical numbers for the Live Art performances. Her years on stage in so many different roles gives her a perspective that is rare. She knows when something is going to work, a crucial skill when turning several hundred students into successful performers.

Pam even helped in designing sets, working closely with her husband who is the scenic designer and technical director for the Live Art production.

What’s most exciting to Pam (whose last play was “The Love of Oranges”) is that the 200 stars of Live Art, (aged 13-18), are students with a range of abilities.

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A STUDENT’S DREAM

While Pam has long nourished the idea of helping all types of children become successful performers, it was one of her former Longwood students, Erin Thomas Foley, whose dreams literally made it possible.

Erin’s dream was of children’s feet, a huge empty canvas and cans of paint. Mystified, Erin discussed her vision with Ryan Rillerton, Executive Director of SPARC, who immediately signed on to the project.

When Erin told Pam of the dream, Pam remembered seeing special needs children dancing at the Kennedy Center nearly 40 years earlier and the profound effect it had on her.

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“I have always believed in the arts for all children,” Pam says, and felt that somehow her student’s dream was expressing the same thing.

She encouraged Erin to share the dream, which she did—discussing the idea with potential supporters throughout the Richmond Community. Eventually it became the Live Art Project.

CHANGING LIVES

On June 7, 2015, the third production of this dream–Live Art: Soul–will be presented at the Altria Theatre in Richmond to an audience of over 3,000 people.

Grammy Award winning musical artists such as Jason Mraz, Mandy Moore and Sara Bareilles will perform with a mixture of children who might go on to be world class stars and children who in the past would never be considered capable of being included in such a public event.

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Pam calls it a “magic moment.”

Live Art has also changed the lives of parents, teachers and children, Pam says. “It is, in practice, what I have hoped for and have been reaching for all my life.”

*All photos by Tom Topinka.

POLICE SERGEANT OF FORGIVENESS (and Remarkable Carol Adams)

Richmond, Virginia Police Sgt., Carol Adams, is tall, slim and beautiful. When she looks at you with love and kindness you don’t expect to hear the story she is about to tell.

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“On December 30, 1980, when I was a young teenager,” she says, ” my father, Arthur Adams, shot and killed my mother, Orine, in our Church Hill home. They had been married 17 years. I remember the night as a blur of sirens, hospital waiting rooms, anxious faces of relatives, and the aching helplessness of realizing she wasn’t coming back.”

STORY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Tragically, Carol Adams says, her story is not unique. National statistics cite one in every four American women as physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some time in their lives. All ages, backgrounds, income groups, neighborhoods, races, religions, and professions are affected.

“Since I was 5 years old,” Carol remembers, “there were the sounds of my father hitting my mother. I still have flashbacks of him beating her. I watched the abuse, watched the police come and go, watched her take my father back time after time. As a teenager, I begged her to leave but she wouldn’t discuss it. Domestic violence was a shameful secret in those days, and my younger sister, Patsy, and I were her silent co-conspirators.”

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HIDING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

For years Carol kept her feelings of pain and anguish hidden inside. “People who suffer from domestic abuse are scared,” she said. “They are living in horrible households behind closed doors.”

Carol’s own pain was intensified by the fact that her father took a plea deal in the murder of her mother, and was sentenced to seven years in prison, with five suspended. After 18 months behind bars, he was out on good behavior. Not only had she lost her mother, Carol now had a choice to make about how she would relate to her father.

FORGIVENESS IS THE KEY

She later forgave her father and was by his bedside when he died of cancer in 2002. “Forgiveness is the key,” she said, because without it, “you will never be free.”

After graduating from Maggie Walker High School in 1981, Carol earned a bachelor’s degree in human resource management from the University of Richmond in 2010.

Along the way she gradually learned how important it was to talk openly about what happened. Carol credits her faith with helping her through the tough times. “God has taken care of me and kept me on track,” she says.

A REMARKABLE CAREER

Carol Adams did something else that was remarkable and has made a difference in the lives of countless individuals. She chose a career in law enforcement.

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“I knew I could make a difference,” she explains, “through both education and providing protection. Women and children who are victims of domestic violence need to know what to expect from a healthy relationship and how to be safe.”

Carol worked seven years with the Richmond Sheriff’s Department before joining Richmond Police 17 years ago. “As police officers,” she says, “we’re in a unique position to help protect and guide victims of domestic violence to safety. We’ve been trained how to identify the signs and intervene to prevent further escalations.”

CRIME PREVENTION PROGRAMS

She now oversees six staff members in the Community Care Unit that develops and implements crime prevention programs. Carol also shares her personal story of domestic violence with church, student and civic groups locally and nationally to help others avoid the kind of pain she knows so well. “Communication,” she says, “it’s the key to helping others.”

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CAROL ADAMS FOUNDATION

In 2013 she founded The Carol Adams Foundation. Its mission: “To provide emergency assistance to women and children who are victims of domestic violence.” On June 20, 2015, the Foundation is sponsoring a fashion show–“Struttin’ 4DV” at  the Lipman Auditorium to help empower domestic violence victims and educate the public. (Tickets on eventbrite)

Glamorous Police Sergeant Carol Adams, changing lives and saving some as well.

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A HEART GENTLY STIRRED (and Remarkable Claire Haun)

“It is probably a good thing that hurricanes don’t usually come with aftershocks. Although I am sure most of Arkansas thought they had been hit by the left over winds from Katrina when Claire Haun blew in. Imagine that energy, that belief, that bright red hair coming at you full force on a daily basis…if you have a parade, I guarantee you, you want Claire in the lead!” (Walking On Water, The ARTS, Hancock County Mississippi)

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NEW HOME: LITTLE ROCK

Martha Claire Haun is a 66-year-old, retired registered nurse that awoke 72 hours after her Mississippi Gulf Coast home surrendered all to the force of Katrina to find herself in North Little Rock, Arkansas!

Claire is also one of those rare individuals with the innate ability to visualize an outcome long before there is a plan. Both her visions–and the plans—cut across many lines and seem to include a variety of people of ages, races and interests. Claire is a bit like the pied piper, too: people follow her lead and the money always has a way of appearing as it is needed.

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Claire embraced her new community with her entire being, joining boards, writing grants for non-profits, and volunteering anywhere there was a need. She’ll tell you it was what she had to do to feel a part of this new home, to meet and make new friends, and to pay-it-forward for all those that had reached out to her after the August 29, 2005 hurricane on the Gulf Coast.

Ten years later, she continues to champion causes that, as she puts it, “gently stir her heart”!

ST. JOSEPH’S ORPHANAGE

October of 2013, Claire was introduced to the former St. Joseph Orphanage, a huge grey building, reaching skyward, high on a hill just north of Little Rock. A 56,000 square foot concrete and stone building, it had opened its door to the homeless in April 1910.

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Maybe it was the fact that Claire had experienced her own homelessness, or maybe it is Claire’s undeniable love of children which is renowned among all that know her, or maybe it was the massive loss of historic treasures she witnessed all along the Coast that evoked a longing to save one within her reach…whatever the reason, her heart was gently stirred!

Gathering friends, she formed The Voices of St. Joseph…Visiting the Past to Save the Future.

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Its mission is “to illuminate and underscore the historical impact of the former St. Joseph’s Orphanage, showcase the talents of local artists, and raise funds for the preservation of the orphanage building and grounds through an oral history play.”

The past 18 months has been spent pouring over thousands of documents, photos, stories, and conducting personal interviews with former residents and staff. An original play focusing on the life on one of the orphans is now complete, accompanied by an original musical score!

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Community businesses and organizations have formed collaborative partnerships. The City Administration has solidified their support, community members stepped forward to work on the grounds, become actors, build sets and businesses that had “heard about that building…but never been in it” are taking tours!

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Artists are opening studios in former classrooms.

Heifer International is engaged in the use of the 400 plus rich surrounding acres, a restoration plan has been developed and this once silent building, has a new voice!

JOEY’S JOURNEY

The historic inaugural event, “Joey’s Journey,” following the life of one of the orphans, will premiere on April 18, 2015. The first day of ticket sales, 126 tickets were spoken for!

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Claire has her majorette boots on…her baton held high…leading yet another parade!

For more information visit www.facebook.com/voicesofstjoseph