Monday, April 18, 2011

Inspired HeARTs - Special Needs Art Class

You may know a little bit about The Johnny Stallings Arts Program here at Merrimack Hall. All classes within this program provide performing arts education for children and teens with special needs.

You've probably heard about Dance Your Dreams!, Project UP, and Camp Merrimack. What you may not have heard about yet is our newest class - Inspired HeARTs.

When Dance Your Dreams launched in 2008, the class was intended to provide dance education to children who cannot participate in mainstream classes due to their special needs (both physical and developmental).

Once the first year came to a close, we realized they had very few options for summer camps. We launched Camp Merrimack in 2009 as an option for families with special-needs children.

As the children began to age, we found that they also grow! Our volunteers, many of whom are teens themselves, could not necessarily lift the teens and assist them with movements. Debra Jenkins and Hayley Henderson then conceived and launched Project UP - a performing company for teens with developmental disabilities. We intended for the students in Dance Your Dreams! to graduate up to the Junior Company of Project UP, and eventually a Senior Company (which will also include adults).

You can see - we have created all of our programs out of needs, as we observe them through the families and students who participate in our classes. This past year, we decided to launch Inspired HeARTs, a visual art program for children and teens ages 10-17 with special needs.

Like Dance Your Dreams!, Inspired HeARTs pairs students one-on-one with volunteers who provide help, support and guidance.

Inspired HeARTs was developed in conjunction with two senior thesis students in the art program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. These student teachers develop projects each week for the students, and teach them art history as well. We are so grateful to them for the patience and love they show to our students every week!

For more information on any of our programs (including enrollment, volunteering or donations), visit our website at!

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