Neighborhood Art House provides volunteer options

The Neighborhood Art House, located on East 10th Street, is a facility that provides individual tutoring through the Hooked on Books program, as well as the opportunity for children to explore the arts.

What used to be a Goodyear tire garage is now home to art supplies, dance shoes and musical instruments.

The Inner-City Neighborhood Art House, located at 201 E.10th St., is dedicated to assisting inner-city children in becoming productive members of society.

The facility serves as a free after-school program that utilizes the arts to promote positive self-expression and self-discipline. Sixty students, ranging from ages 7 to 14, participate in three classes from 2:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. on topics such as Irish step dance, wearable art and earth action.

The classes are organized by age and selected by the students according to their individual interests.

The Inner-City Neighborhood Art House, a ministry of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, has a staff  mostly comprising volunteers.

Program director Sister Peg Pilewski said she is faithful in the Neighborhood Art House’s capability to change the lives of the attending students regardless of their varying proficiencies.

“We are not set up to turn out artists or musicians,” she said. “We are set up to help the students find themselves and to feed the soul with art.”

The Inner-City Neighborhood Art House also provides tutoring for students by individual need and through the Hooked on Books program.

Dr. Dolores Sarafinski, a former Gannon University English professor, was a key member in creating the Hooked On Books program.

Current Gannon students continually give time to the program for  course work and community service. Paula Barrett, an instructor in the department of theatre, communication and fine arts, regularly sends students from her Voice and Diction class to read to the students at the Inner-City Art House.

“It’s a very worthwhile place to visit; the joy and energy in the place are palpable,” she said. “It also provides the students with a practical learning experience.” The facility leaves its doors open for volunteers.

 Describing her experience at the Inner-City Art House, Clarissa Schnieder, a junior communication arts major, said the students were very well behaved and excited to hear her read.

Schneider spent time with the students reading a storybook and said she recommends more students get involved. “It’s really beneficial and fulfilling for all people involved,” she said. “Plus, it keeps the students in a positive environment.”  

Volunteers are welcome stop in at any time during the program’s after-school hours.

Sister Peg Pilewski said she can’t stress enough the importance of community volunteers. “They can just come to sit with a child or help teachers get ready for classes,” she said. “Any and all contributions make a significant impact.”

Students attending the after-school program are not expected to pay for any of the musical, art or dance lessons they receive at the Art House. They are also not required to bring any supplies with them to use in the program.

With generous contributions from the Erie community, the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House is able to provide all participants with supplies including instruments, dance shoes and clay. They have also received grants for various expenditures and they hold several fundraisers throughout the year.

The largest is an annual art expedition where students proudly display and explain their work. Some showcase pottery and paintings while other students perform readings of their original poetry. All artwork at the event is for sale. The students are given a small portion of the price and the rest is used to fund the facility’s operations. Even after leaving the program, many students return as volunteers.

Student appreciation and pride for their involvement in the Inner-City Art House is evident. In times of conflict, students often refer back to their daily anthem that reads, “May my mind think not harm, may my lips speak no harm, may my hands do no harm.”

There is no doubt that this program, which also runs in the summer session, is helping to shape an at-risk population in a positive direction. The Inner-City Neighborhood Art House provides benefits that reach far beyond the concrete walls of the old garage bays that are now filled with color and music.

JESSICA SCOUTEN

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