Empowered Players still growing after six years

By Page H. Gifford

When it comes to the arts, schools provide the students the basics but much of the visual and performing arts remain in the shadows of academics and athletics. Community groups that expand the arts through engagement help students to build on what they have already learned in school. Groups like Empowered Players give students a deeper and more enriching experience through the performing arts.

Empowered Players began in the summer of 2016. In 2016 their first one-week camp had ten students. Today, they serve 150 students.

“It’s been wonderful to see the program’s growth, and we’re grateful for the community’s continued support,” said its founder and director Jessica Harris.

Empowered Players is a nonprofit that provides accessible theater and arts education for students K-12 in Fluvanna County.

“Our mission is to uplift the human spirit through access to quality arts experiences, youth empowerment, and community service,” said Harris. “Through our free year-long theater, writing, and voice classes, accessible performances, and volunteer opportunities, we seek to create a more connected, creative, and engaged community.”

This year is special for EP. They have four graduating seniors that have been in their program since the first camp in 2016 and throughout high school. Among them her brother Josh Harris, who wore many hats from set designing to acting; Delaney Hammond, Mia LaRochelle, and Grace Lintecum adding their energy and dedication and believing in something worthwhile.

“It’s special for me to have watched them grow up in our programs and this community as they have become caring and brilliant young adults,” she said.

EP like other art-related community groups creates an atmosphere that helps children interact with others and their environment, self-expression, and communication. The arts cultivate a multitude of other skills, including problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, and confidence. These and others are important components to shaping child development. The arts have proven to promote social development and motor skills as well as improve reading and math.

“One of the things that I’m grateful EP has been able to provide is a sense of family and community for many of our students. We focus on striving to provide a positive, loving environment in all of our classes and troupes, and we hope to foster a place where all feel welcome,” said Harris. “We’ve heard from families that students have been more interested in community service, more driven in their academics, and have seen increased social and emotional development. All of this drives us to do what we do, and it’s been such a blessing to see the impact of EP.”

Harris adds that through performances, volunteering, and accessible programs, EP has offered families and students access to the arts in tremendous ways. In 2020 they were able to expand their community outreach efforts with new virtual programming, from talent shows to costume contests to creative challenges and more.

“Our increase in youth theater programming has filled a large need in Fluvanna, and we’re excited to expand our reach.” Harris believes that as we emerge out of the pandemic, the arts will be important in helping rebuild, restore, and rejuvenate our community. For the future, EP is looking at how they can return to some form of in-person programming, as this past year they offered all of their performances and classes online. As they return to in-person learning and performing they are also looking for increased space to accommodate their growing number of students.

“We’ll continue exploring ways to increase our accessibility – both in geographic location, variety of programming, and heightened opportunities. We’ll keep supporting our community through events, services, and mentoring, and hope to continue to solidify our presence in Fluvanna. The future is exciting for us.”

Entering into their fifth year, Harris expresses her deep gratitude for the community’s support.

“As evidenced by our remarkable senior student volunteers and performers, this has truly become a community-driven effort that has led to remarkable connections and opportunities, and we’re so excited to see what lies ahead.”

For more information about Empowered Players, camps, and how to get involved, visit https://www.empoweredplayers.com/

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