PITTSFIELD — "Strong kids make the community strong," was the message — and part of the lyrics to an original song — of the 2016 Summer Spectacular celebrating the conclusion of this year's Westside Children's Enrichment Program.
Coordinated by the Christian Center and sponsored by multiple local agencies, the free three-week summer program wrapped up Friday afternoon on the basketball court of Tucker Park Playground. Around 30 kids, ages 5 to 12, took part in field trips to places like Berkshire Museum and Sabic and enjoyed various activities under the arts-focused curriculum, as led by Berkshire artists-educators.
Natalya Whalen taught dance warm-ups and routines, while Joshua Morgan worked with a group of students interested in drumming and musical performance. Vikki True helped the kids compose an original song, and led art activities, which included making posters for picking up trash around the Christian Center and keeping the neighborhood clean.
The songs, dances and drumming were all showcased for parents, neighbors and other community members during Friday's Summer Spectacular.
"It's taken them a lot to get here today," said Christian Center Director Ellen Merritt of the kids and teens. Many of them had no prior experience in music and the performing arts.
"They're also here hoping to make a difference in our community," she said.
"I'm so proud of these children and how much they've grown," said Whalen, who emceed the event.
Some of the older kids involved with the program were also celebrated for their growth as program and community leaders.
First-time participant Jossalin Leggette, 12, who will be a seventh-grader at Reid Middle School this year, started off as a program participant, but Merritt and the other teachers quickly recognized the girl's ability to communicate with and engage the younger kids. So Leggette assisted Whalen with choreography and looked out after the others.
Leggette said she decided to stop up because, "The kids were just really fun ... I felt that I had the energy to do more and wanted to be part of the experience."
Brothers Abdul and Mohammed Ahmed, a junior and a freshman at Taconic High School respectively, decided to get involved as counselors after seeing how much their younger siblings enjoyed last year's program.
"I thought I knew something, but I learned a lot about kids," said Abdul. "It wasn't easy, but it was worth it to get to this point with them."
Bob Donnelly's 9-year-old son, James Ryan, participated in the enrichment program for a second year. Donnelly said of it, "I think it's a great thing, inspirational really, and the city needs more of it."
He said his son first joined because of music and then found out he enjoyed hip-hop dance.
Said Donnelly, "It keeps the kids interested and entertained and involved in their passions instead of involved in something else in the streets."