Theatre of Hearts Inc. is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit corporation, founded in 1987 by Shiela Scott-Wilkinson. Her vision was to promote understanding between people through cultural and artistic forums, and to empower local communities through education in the arts.

Theatre of Hearts uses a number of educational arts programs to reach both the youth in the community and educators as well.

The Youth First Artist-in-Residence Program is designed to prevent and intervene in youth violence by involving youth and their families in arts education workshops offered at schools and community-based sites in underserved neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County.

“Every Youth First Program is a model of inclusion, crossing lines of race and cultural differences,” said Scott-Wilkinson. “Since its inception in 1992, the Youth First Artist-in-Residence Program has linked over 300 professional artists from the Los Angeles area with over 94,000 underserved youth. It is the intention of Youth First to ensure that our residencies are long-term, providing youth with the continuity and ongoing mentoring so critical for making a lasting impact in their lives.”

The Artist-in-Residence program is geared towards youth ages 4-18, and all workshop curricula conform to the California Language Arts and Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Content Standards as a core academic course.

“Youth First Artist-in-Residence educational workshops teach new skills to young participants and involve them in positive hands-on creative experiences with theater, creative writing, visual arts, storytelling, music, choral singing and dance,” said Scott-Wilkinson. “Each residency usually includes 13-15 sessions between one and four hours long, once or twice weekly. Programs are held either during school or after-school hours.”

A concluding “work-in-progress” event usually scheduled to occur during the final program session provides a showcase for student works produced during the workshop series in the form of a performance, exhibit or published work that can be shared with their peers, faculty and administration, parents and/or local community.

“Working with administration, faculty, youth program managers and/or caregivers, each program is custom-designed to fit the needs of the program site’s current curricula, community interests, cultural preferences, and the ages and developmental needs of the youth being served,” said Scott-Wilkinson. “We don’t have a cookie-cutter program. We go to these sites and we find out their needs and then come up with the best way to accommodate those youth. It is difficult to catch kids with a cookie-cutter program, which is why we tailor each one specifically for each site.”

Yesterday, the program held a mural dedication unveiling two works, “The Wall of Transformation” and “The Wall of Communication” at the Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. As part of the Literacy Alive program the youth in these centers were taught creative writing and trained on how to combine that with visual artistry to create the murals.

Theatre of Hearts tries to enrich its youth participants with an in-depth experience. “We take the students to museums and things like that, but it is much more than a field trip,” said Scott-Wilkinson. “These students aren’t just going in as looky-loo’s. When they see the artwork they are able to comment on shading, framing, etc., because they are invested in it; they truly develop an appreciation for the arts.”

The organization also does assessment of the students’ progress and teachers have attested to the way that their students have been able to use what they’ve learned in the arts programs to apply and improve upon their performance in their core classes.

Parents who are interested in their children being involved in the Theatre of Hearts programs are encouraged to ask their principal to have the program brought to their location. To donate to the program and for more information, visit the website at www.theatreofhearts.org.