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ARTS CLASSES : Dream Weavers : Kids' Arts hopes to offer free training in dance, art, music, drama, poetry and sculpture to children in foster homes.


Foster children deal with some harsh realities. They've been yanked from their homes because their parents have abused, neglected, abandoned or molested them. Often these parents are drug addicts.

But a group of Ojai residents hopes to bring a softer side of life to these kids. "Kids' Arts" was formed this summer to provide free classes in dance, art, music, drama, poetry and sculpture to children 4 through 17 who live in foster homes all over Ventura County.

The group operates modestly out of the Livery cultural center in Ventura, but members have an ambitious five-year plan. If fund raising goes as expected, they hope to open their own center where children would put on plays, perform, or display their work.

"This is something I want to do--give back to the community," said Tessie Goddard, a longtime dance instructor who conceived Kids' Arts.

The philosophy behind it is simple. These are kids who have had little exposure to the arts during a tumultuous existence. They've suffered physical and emotional pain. Classes would boost self-esteem, encourage self- expression and promote healing, according to Goddard and others.

It's already started to happen. As Goddard tells it, a 5-year-old girl living in a foster home came to her dance class last summer. The child wrapped her arms around her chest, unable to move on the dance floor.

"At the end of six weeks, she was having the best time, dancing all over the room," Goddard said. "It was so wonderful (to see her) uninhibited."

The hourlong classes are held on Saturdays. So far Goddard's class and a street dancing class are the only offerings. A drama class is expected to gear up this month and may include a performance by the children. A poetry class is also in the works.

The other program founders include Sally Pollet, who has experience heading fund-raising campaigns including the Ojai Music Festival, and Jill Bensley, an economic consultant to arts organizations.

Kids' Arts will coordinate its classes through Children's Auxiliary Services, a nonprofit arm of the Ventura County Public Social Services Agency. For the past nine years, the auxiliary has been raising funds through projects to help youngsters in foster care.

Across the county, nearly 500 children are living in foster homes, placed there by the courts because it isn't safe for them to continue living at home, said Jane Reiman, volunteer and community coordinator for social services. Another 300 children live at home under court supervision.

All these children are eligible for the free classes. She hopes that the program will draw 100 kids. That may be difficult at first because the children are dependent on foster parents to transport them to the classes. For those living in the east end of the county, it's an added burden. Organizers hope that at some point transportation will be provided and that they can expand classes daily, as well as provide trips to museums and theaters.

"In Ventura County we've never had anything like this," Reiman said, except for free tickets to the Ventura County Symphony last year. "Most of the kids don't have exposure to the arts. It's an opportunity for them to express themselves and to be in the spotlight for a change."

Kids' Arts organizers expect the program will blossom into a $71,000-a-year operation by the end of the first five years. They have modeled the program along the lines of the Dance Theater of Harlem, which has become a world renowned ballet company, and City Hearts Performing Arts in Los Angeles, a place for disadvantaged kids to get dance and theater instruction.

Goddard envisions that once the program is rolling the classes would open up to all disadvantaged children, not just those under court supervision.

Kids' Arts has submitted a proposal for a grant from the A. Levy Foundation and will be dependent on donations. Goddard doesn't think it will be that difficult to raise money during tight times.

"The response (so far) has been incredible," she said. If the money doesn't come in, instructors are prepared to continue to volunteer their time until money is available to pay them, she said.

The group has a wine and hors d'oeuvres fund-raiser planned for Oct. 24. Organizers hope to raise $2,500 to $3,000 during the event, said Bensley, who also doubles as the poetry instructor.

"We don't think this will cure the problem," Bensley said. "But it will provide a way for the children to express what's inside. They are our hope for the future, our bright spot."


For more information about Kids' Arts and the Oct. 24 fund-raiser call 654-3447.

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