The Des Plaines Park District's mission to provide quality recreational opportunities extends beyond athletic, artistic, and fitness pursuits. The District is also committed to empowering young people to become community leaders. To fulfill that goal, the District has three unique programs aimed at developing youth leadership skills in children ages ten and older. These programs help youth improve communication skills, build self-confidence, and foster a sense of volunteerism. The District's three programs are Leaders in Training, which trains high school students to become summer camp counselors; Junior Leaders, which teaches middle school children to become assistants at school day off programs, Fantastic Fridays, and Middle School Drop-Ins; and Helping Hands, which prepares emerging dancers to become dance instructors.
The Helping Hands program began in 2007. This year the program has thirteen dancers who volunteer two to three hours a week in beginning level ballet, tap, and lyrical classes. Their responsibilities include assisting the instructor by taking attendance, leading warm-ups, working one on one with dancers, and demonstrating proper techniques. Helping Hands assistants are also on hand during the year-end recital to keep the show moving smoothly. "Cultivating leadership in children is quite simple," said Nancy Suwalski, Cultural Arts Supervisor. "All it really takes is a staff of empowered, committed, and caring dance instructors who believe in the potential of their students."
"These are our future teachers," said School of Dance Instructor, Laura Chiuve, who runs the Helping Hands program. "We have had several graduates of the School of Dance Helping Hands program go on to major in dance in college, become Dance and Arts Camp Instructors, and teach at the District. The program includes on-going training throughout the year to support the dancers in applying their new skills. Helping Hands volunteers meet once a month to share experiences, discuss how to resolve issues, develop a syllabus, write lesson plans, and teach new skills to their contemporaries.
Helping Hands assistants are role models for beginning level dancers. "I became a Helping Hands assistant so I could teach younger dancers proper techniques," said Megan Swanson. "I try to bring a sense of commitment to a healthy life and my love for dance," she continued. "The younger dancers benefit from having an example of what they should do all of the time," said Georgina Genovese." "Volunteering makes me feel good." Both Swanson and Genovese agree that helping younger dancers with technique strengthens their own basic skills.
The Helping Hands dancers are required to learn the dance routine in the classes in which they assist, in addition to those in their own classes. Many of the assistants are also part of the in-house dance company, Artistry in Motion. "Having Helping Hands assistants in the class encourages younger dancers to continue to practice and strive to improve," said Chiuve. "The Helping Hands assistants are great examples of what comes from hard work."
For more information about becoming a part of the Des Plaines Park District's youth training programs and for more information about the School of Dance, visit www.DPParks.org or call 847-391-5700.