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Riverzedge Teens Beautify Woonsocket Over The Summer

Tuesday, September 03, 2013


The teens at Riverzedge Arts are making a difference in their communities, as well as their futures.

This summer teens in workforce development programs and summer learning initiatives gave back to their community with the help of Woonsocket's Riverzedge Arts. Pulling hundreds of cubic feet of garbage from the Blackstone River, designing materials for a drop-in charrette for one of the poorest neighborhoods in RI, reimagining the foyer of their high school, and installing rain gardens are just some of the ways Riverzedge Arts Teens improved their communities and their futures.

Riverzedge aims to engage teens with school-oriented learning in the big world. Over the last year, Riverzedge Arts teens and staff have developed new ways to apply art, design, and creative problem solving to some of the city's toughest problems, and they are getting results. One of the ways that the organization works toward educating and empowering teens is by funding educational stipends for them to learn art and design skills in five small studio businesses. As teens learn to produce websites, bike racks, logos, screen-print T-shirts, and develop environmentally friendly products, they hone the skills needed to succeed in the professional world. The training also provides an opportunity to contribute significantly to a creative community, building self-esteem and self-reliance along the way.

Hands-on learning

Known as ELO, the Expanded Learning Opportunities program provides a replicable model to address the local and national graduation crisis, utilizing much more of the talent dispersed throughout cities and towns to aid schools in preparing kids for successful and productive lives. As part of the ELO program, 56 percent of individual or small group learning projects are designed and completed by students in conjunction with an industry mentor. Medical students at Brown University Alpert Medical School, the owner of a boxing gym, and a fashion designer at Tommy Hilfiger in NYC, among others, gave youth incentive to stay in school and kept them on track to graduation.

Markanthony, one budding fashion designer who completed his ELO at RISD with mentoring from Crystal at Tommy Hilfiger, is one such success story. He went from passing only one class in 2012 to having passed five in 2013, and credits his ELO project with changing his whole life, in addition to helping him get motivated to do better in school. Last month, Markanthony completed a Summer Fashion Design Institute at the University of Miami, which he applied to and saved money to attend after his ELO experience. These days, he is looking at colleges with excellent fashion programs, knowing that he has a good chance of acceptance due to his dramatically improved performance and demonstrated commitment to his chosen field.

Other budding entrepreneurs have been busy at the Riverzedge Studios following their own dreams. Some participants founded an environmentally friendly skateboard line with funding from a Kickstarter campaign in only 15 days. Emerging artists created a stunning exhibit of large-scale pieces called The Big Works, using modern and contemporary artists such as Robert Longo, Kara Walker, Shahzia Sikander, Tom Sachs, and others as a source of inspiration. The show opening in Pawtucket was met with great feedback for the professional and even museum quality of some of the works. “The Big Works was my third art show this year, and each one made me feel more like an artist for real and more proud," said Michael, a 3-year Riverzedge Interdisciplinary Arts Studio participant. "Just from the way people talk to you about your painting instead of asking questions about school makes you feel like you’re famous, or maybe going to be.”

Interested in getting involved with Riverzedge Arts? Make a difference by making a donation, becoming a mentor, or purchasing a ticket to their annual fundraiser, The Industrial Ball.


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Rebekah Speck

Small correction on the above: 56% of completed ELOs in SY 2012-2013 enabled students to graduate on time or progress to the next grade level to stay on track to on-time graduation. 100% of the individual or small group projects were completed with an industry mentor. To find out how you can become an industry mentor, contact elowoonsocket@gmail.com.

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