by Katie Madonna
It’s 9:30pm on a weeknight in North Chester and there are continuous explosions for the fifth night in a row. Booming. Crackling. Popping. The once-jarring nightly rounds of Fireworks, ranging from small firecrackers to bottle rockets to stadium-style mortars, lit off in Chester since mid-March, have become what some are considering the “new normal.” And who could blame youth and adults alike for needing some regularly scheduled outdoor entertainment? On March 13th, due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, Governor Wolf announced all Pennsylvania schools would close, beginning a longer-than-expected shelter-in-place order. Thousands of students were promptly shuffled from the normal routine of classroom-learning to the online schooling world of Zoom and Google Classroom. And just like that, nearly all gym, music, and art classes disappeared, leaving many students without a creative or physical outlet or much structure at all.
In addition to closing the classroom, after-school programs including sports, homework clubs, and art camps in Chester and around the state were cancelled. Legacy Arts Club, a program exclusively designed for Chester youth to grow in their artistic skills, interpersonal relationships, and scholastic endeavors, which met with a dozen artistically-inclined Chester students twice a week, closed its doors much earlier than expected for the semester as well.
“I was so bummed when I heard the news that we would have to close for the semester. Then when everything happened with George Floyd’s death, I couldn’t stop thinking about our kids and our leaders. As a racially diverse group, the coming together we do is absolutely important, especially at a time like this. This is the group I am building a community with and when crisis hits you want to gather together instead of spread out. I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing so I tried to figure out how to be of service to the community, especially to the Legacy Arts Club students.
-Tucker Rodkey, Executive Director of Legacy Arts Club, a program of Painting Freedom.
Legacy Arts Club, led by Tucker Rodkey, decided they wanted to gather the community to bring artistic opportunities to the Chester youth this summer. In just four weeks, 115 people donated more than $6,700 to support Legacy Arts Club and provide more than 500 ‘Summer Bash Activity Boxes’ to Chester youth – staggering for a time when many are unemployed or facing job uncertainty. Each ‘Summer Bash Activity Box’ includes the basics for creating art: colored pencils, markers, pencils, construction paper, watercolors, games, and an art activity book. In addition, boxes include information about violence prevention, Legacy Arts Club membership, and local mentorship programs.
Last Friday night, the boxes were stuffed with supplies by 17 mask-wearing-volunteers. Art box distribution begins this Thursday in Highland Gardens at 6:00pm and continues for the next five weeks. Each Thursday and Friday the team will travel to a different Chester neighborhood. If you would like more information about time and location of distribution, please email email@example.com.
Rodkey says, “We are offering a box filled with endless opportunities for creativity, a box filled with activities to bring joy, a box filled with reminders that there is more than violence and anger in this world. I hope that the students who receive a box feel valued. I hope they are able to express themselves in creative ways and just be kids.” Legacy Arts Club is halfway to reaching the goal of distributing 1,000 boxes to ten Chester neighborhoods and are still accepting donations via their GoFundMe webpage.
Creating and distributing more than 500 ‘Summer Bash Activities Boxes’ to Chester youth is made possible through generous donors and through partnership with Chester Upland Youth Soccer, Loomis Racquet Academy, and Making A Change Group. Making A Change Group launched a violence prevention initiative this summer called V-PRYDE which stands for Violence-Prevention-Recreation-Youth-Development-Engagement Initiative.
Legacy Arts Club is a program of Painting Freedom. Painting Freedom exists to equip a generation of artists to share their faith, to connect with others through the power of image, and to empower our city to flourish through the power of Christian faith and the arts. To learn more, visit legacyartsclub.com or paintingfreedom.com.