Kids program melds art, business

Published May 24, 2007

PINELLAS PARK - The idea is to keep at-risk kids out of trouble, but a new program could turn their lives around while giving them valuable business experience and sparking their creative talents.

The free program is called Youth Arts Corps Productions and will run year-round. But it's starting slowly, with a summer session for 45 kids ages 12 to 14 who live in the two main Pinellas Park ZIP codes, 33781 and 33782.

If there's space available, kids who live in ZIP codes 33773, 33760 and 33762 will also be able to participate.

Those ZIP codes were chosen because of Juvenile Welfare Board studies showing that kids who live there are at a high risk for dropping out of school or getting into trouble.

"The need for this type of program is tremendous for the kids in that community, " said Mary Ann Assiff, director of the Family Resource's Youth Arts Corps, which is running the program. "The arts are the carrot. What we are doing is growing kids."

The program, which will be the only one of its kind in Pinellas County, has three components.

The main component combines art with the Junior Achievement Business Development curriculum.

Kids will form their own businesses and produce some sort of art - ceramics, video, singing, painting, printmaking, performance, or any other. They will then sell that product.

At the end of the session, each participant will get at least a $75 stipend from the experience and may receive more if his company's product makes a profit.

The second component is tutoring by Pinellas County teachers for those who need it. The third component, like the second, will be offered to those kids who need or want mentors.

Some support for the program is coming from the city of Pinellas Park, which has offered its Forbes and Skyview Recreation centers for the headquarters. The city also plans to let the kids use its television production facilities so they can get hands-on experience producing shows.

Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said the city's involvement came out of a casual conversation about the possibility of creating such a program.

When it became reality, he said, the city agreed to participate because it not only has a history of supporting programs for youths, but also because officials are well aware of the statistics showing local kids are at risk.

"It's one more tool" to help kids, Caddell said. "It does seem like a good program."

The Family Resources Youth Arts Corps began 10 years ago in partnership with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the Pinellas and Hillsborough Arts councils.

The agency now receives about $850, 000 annually from the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board for its after-school and summer programs.

Those are the Youth Arts Corps at Wildwood and the Youth Arts Corps QUILTS!, both in southern St. Petersburg, and the Youth Arts Corps at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo.

Other funding comes from the city of St. Petersburg, the Pinellas County Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

A $350, 000 JWB grant will fund the Pinellas Park program, although Assiff said they hope to get additional funding as the program develops.

If you're interested

Youths aged 12, 13, or 14 in ZIP codes 33781 and 33782 will have a chance this summer to join the Family Resources' Youth Arts Corps Productions. There is no charge to join and kids who participate could earn at least $75 while learning about business and art. Activities will be at the Forbes and Skyview Recreation centers in Pinellas Park.

The program is also open to those in ZIP codes 33773, 33760 and 33762 on a space-available basis. The program will begin June 4 and run from 5:30. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Volunteer mentors are also needed. Call 528-5797 or 528-5796.

Risk factors

The Juvenile Welfare Board's Mid-County Regional Profile Report found Pinellas Park had the highest percentage of factors that indicated kids are at-risk of failure or getting into trouble. Academic Underachievement in Pinellas Park Middle School for the 2004-05 school year is evidenced by FCAT scores - 58 percent (641) of 1, 110 students tested in grades 6-8 scored at levels 1 and 2 (at-risk of failing) in reading and 56 percent (618) scored at levels 1 and 2 in math.

Here are some other findings:

19 percent: Pinellas Park Middle School's suspension rate. That was the highest of all middle schools in mid county.

9.1 percent: Students in Pinellas Park Middle School who missed 21 or more days.

168 Number of students of free and reduced lunch at Pinellas Park Middle School. That was the highest percentage (57.2 percent).

49 percent: Students at Pinellas Park Middle School who live in Pinellas Park.

470 Referrals in 2004-05 to the Department of Juvenile Justice in ZIP code 33781. Of the 17 ZIP codes that comprise mid county, that was the highest; 282 occurred in 33782. Those are the two main Pinellas Park ZIP codes.

91 youths aged 10 to 14 years with Juvenile Justice referrals in ZIP code 33781 and 58 referrals in ZIP code 33782 during 2004-05.

81 Felony referrals that year in ZIP code 33781. That was the largest. ZIP code 33781 also had the highest incidence of females referred to Juvenile Justice (80).

Source: Juvenile Welfare Board