Moving Ahead hosts first Therapeutic Arts and Rhythm Program

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COLUMBIA - The Moving Ahead Program at Columbia's J.W. "Blind" Boone Community center is giving some youths a creative and constructive way to spend their spring break this year.

Usually, Moving Ahead operates Monday through Friday, 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., as an after school program for children in kindergarten through 8th grade. This year, it decided to start a specific program that focuses on a rhythm and arts.

Renee Reed-Miller, the project architect and coordinator, said she has seen a dream and a vision come to fruition this week.   

"We need the poetry, we need the ceramics, we need the rhythm, we need the music therapy, we need all of this to be integrated into something where the youth see that arts can really offer that mechanism of hope and healing," Reed-Miller said.

Vessels International pioneered the idea of the art and rhythm program in Columbia last year during a training session. Funding from a Rotary District grant and the Rotary Club of Columbia paid for training of four Moving Ahead staff members for the arts and rhythm camp. 

In order to offer this camp for a full week, Boone County Children Services Fund granted the funds as a "pilot program" in the Moving Ahead Program.

Reed-Miller then reached out to Mike Veny, a teaching artist, to interact with the children for a drum circle facilitation. 

"We're all just equal and vulnerable and that's the beautiful thing about a drum circle," Veny said. "Rarely do we see people come together and unify and when you're playing in a drum circle, hopefully if everyone is on feel that sense of unification."

Veny went through behavioral and mental health challenges as a child, being expelled from three schools and even admitted to a mental hospital three times. He wants to help other children learn positive ways to manage those issues.

Veny has games with the drums, using listening skills and counting skills, to help with behavioral challenges and basic math skills. 

One child in the program, Jakira Foulks, said she was able to make connections with other kids during the drumming lesson.

"When sometimes people do the same thing as me and I like that because then I feel like they like my drumming," Foulks said.

Veny will leave after the week, but he said the lessons go beyond drumming.

"When you have a program like this, you're not just giving kids an opportunity, you're helping the economy as a whole because you're giving them skills that go far beyond just regular academic education with learning to bond with other people and express themselves in a healthy way and that's important for success in society," Veny said.

Reed-Miller said she hopes to make the Therapeutic Arts and Rhythm Program long term. 

"This is first aid for the heart. This is what our youth need," Reed-Miller said. "If they don't have it, look what happens with the school shootings. We have to give them these tools. They need the safe space to offer what they are feeling, to talk about it to write about it, to recite about it in a poetry slam. To do that hard work of the heart because unless they do, we're going to have an ongoing problem."

On Saturday, the program will invite parents to watch their children perform, read letters and teach their parents what they have learned themselves.