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Features | Spring 2017
Logo: Taffy

Everybody Wins!

TAFFY PRESENTS Brings Song, and More, to Underserved Families

You are a performing artist, a visual artist, and/or an educator. You are excited about bringing your special programming to underserved children who really need to have their spirits lifted. You know that you can help.

Welcome to the world of Theatre Arts Festival for Youth (TAFFY), the place that connects the world of children’s entertainment and education to your talents. While TAFFY, the parent organization, and its division TAFFY Presents both are oriented towards reaching underserved children and families, TAFFY performances are directed toward large-scale events while TAFFY Presents features “quality interactive fine arts and performing arts programs plus educational workshops in theater, music, dance, and puppetry for schools, hospitals, libraries, and more.”

I, Irene Light, am your TAFFY Presents Tour Guide and Resource Person (so I have been told). I am also a former public school music teacher who can quote curriculum goals with the best of them. Oh, I almost forgot: I am also an Executive Board Member and Director of East Coast Productions for TAFFY Presents.

Photo: Noam Brown
Noam Brown with Pahokee Elementary School children at the Loula V. York branch of the Palm Beach County Library System

WAIT! Don’t go! If you reside on the West Coast, John Wood will direct you, and if you live somewhere else, we will flip a coin! Okay. Not totally true. We have local coordinators in Denver, Colorado (Katherine Dines); Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington (Beth Blenz-Clucas); Detroit, Michigan (Andrew Wood); and busy Florida (Noam Brown), plus a cast of thousands who have not committed to help us YET.

Here is how it works: If you are a professional performer, educator, or creative person who wants to introduce children to the arts, then you should contact TAFFY. I know that there are lots of multitalented people in CMN who fall into this category. Visits are sometimes donated by the artist, but since we search for grants and donations, we might force you to take money! The benefits of helping our children feel like children and seeing them smile and glow is extremely rewarding. You can make a difference!

Natalia Malley, a TAFFY artist, wrote this on Facebook:

Photo: Natalia Malley
Natalia Malley creating face paintings at the Katherine K. Hanley Family Shelter in Fairfax, VA

Last week, just before Christmas, I had the pleasure of painting for a homeless Family Shelter’s Christmas party through an organization called TAFFY Presents. This non-profit organization provides opportunities to enrich the lives of underserved and hospitalized children through music, art, theatre and dance. I cannot begin to tell you what an AMAZING feeling it was to put smiles on the faces of these children! My heart truly grew three sizes that day. When these kids looked in the mirror, they saw themselves as beautiful princesses, as superheroes, as powerful dragons. I am so incredibly grateful to have been able to bring joy to these kids who are living a hard, hard life.

The children served by TAFFY Presents lead hard lives because they are:

  1. In hospitals due to serious medical issues;
  2. Living in shelters because of homelessness and/or abuse; or
  3. Attending a special school that helps them with their severe physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.

When you become a TAFFY artist, and we find your forte, TAFFY makes a match between you and the perfect location. We work with the venue to address site concerns so that your visit runs smoothly.

Photo: Susan Shane-Linder
Susan Shane-Linder’s interactive program at the Learning Path Academy School, West Palm Beach, FL

Being a nonprofit 501(c)3 charity for more than twenty-eight years has given us credibility and gained us the respect of our twenty-plus communities in the United States. We are growing rapidly, so I have given up on counting! As a participating artist, all you have to do is go to the venue and do your magic. It is that easy.

The entire experience is great for the performing artist, children, families, and donors. Staff members also enjoy the fun entertainment! These events are posted on our Facebook site, too. EVERYBODY WINS!

We are a closely knit community. Performers enjoy sending us CDs and DVDs, which are forwarded to our venues. School, shelter, and hospital libraries have a collection of TAFFY moments to share with the children when we are not there.

When I asked Laura Cohen, Child Life Director at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai to name the most helpful programs we had sent, she focused on those directed at teens.

I think of Bruce Anderson who brought a huge smile to one of our young boys who spent so much time in the hospital while recuperating from surgery. Bruce taught him how to play the keyboard and our patient was beaming!!!! I think of Max Bent who helped another teenage boy compose a beat box song and let him perform it in front of a room full of staff and patients. This patient who also had to spend a lot of time in the hospital was so thrilled to be able to work alongside Max and to compose his own song. It was the happiest that I have ever seen him.

Then Laura continued to praise every performer we have sent over the past year.

Photo: Bruce Anderson
Bruce Anderson teaching piano at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai, Baltimore

TAFFY wants our artists to be creative and have fun. Here are examples of how we have helped performers apply their own new ideas to our programming:

  • A storyteller, Barbara Effron, said that she would love to work with a Ronald McDonald House in the Washington, DC Metro area. We are in the process of connecting them.
  • Singer-songwriter Laurie Mangold called and asked for TAFFY’s help to create a carnival atmosphere at a shelter in Fairfax, Virginia. In response, we collaborated to create a TAFFY Fun Day at the Katherine K. Hanley Family Shelter. We filled the cafeteria with music, art activities, magic, face painting, and storytelling. Parents were encouraged to come with their children so that they could see how easily the arts can lead to a bonding experience for their family. So it really was a workshop for parents but it was disguised as a Fun Day for everyone. Again (let’s say it together), EVERYBODY WINS!
  • This past winter, TAFFY embarked on a novel community outreach project that grew out of Val Smalkin’s initial visit to the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB). The Saturday songwriting workshop, funded by TAFFY and held for the benefit of MSB and MSB State Outreach students alike, was designed to help blind teens self-advocate. The thought behind the workshop was that songwriting would be a perfect way to encourage teens to express themselves. This event was planned to be a one-time event, but the results were so powerful that Val immediately sought and found TAFFY funding to return to work with the students for four additional sessions with an end goal of creating a CD to benefit the MSB and TAFFY. Val, under TAFFY’s auspices, is coordinating this effort. Both songs and spoken-word pieces are envisioned for the CD, and CMN’s own Dave Kinnoin has offered to put lyrics to music, as has local Baltimore songstress Sahffi Lynne.
Photo: Val Smalkin
Val Smalkin creating lyrics with students at the Maryland School for the Blind State Outreach Program, Baltimore

Val Smalkin writes, “While we are still in the writing stage, the following is one student’s original e-mail to me, followed by my reworking those ideas into a song structure. The student found the lyrics ‘perfect’ and is happy to share here. The underlying principle of this project is: The student’s interests take precedence over all others.

The student’s original poem:

People stare, back away scared,
I try to act like the whispers don’t bother me,
I take a deep breath and count to three.

Take a short walk around the neighborhood,
You pretend to be my friend just so you can look good,
I wipe away the tears, tell myself there is nothing to fear,
because my friends and family are right here.

I try to pretend the whispers don’t bother me.
I take a deep breath and count to three.
People stare and back away scared.

They use me and abuse me, then throw me away.

©2017 Val Smalkin as agent for MSB Songwriting Workshop Students

Val’s reworked, student-directed lyrics are written below. She writes, “This has the girls’ approval. The core of every idea came from their thoughts and words. Each verse has a different melody and mood.”

Not With My Eyes
Words and music by Maryland School for the Blind students with Valerie Leonhart Smalkin
©2017 Small Kin Music

Can’t see the light, but I see clearly
Nothing in sight, yet I see clearly

You want to be a hero
Pretend you are my friend.
I know you think I’m zero
Worth nothing in the end.

So I take a deep breath, count to three,
Pretend your pretense doesn’t bother me.
But the truth of your lies isn’t easy to hide.
I see your truth, but not with my eyes.

Some folks are scared, and
Some folks will stare and
Some will abuse me,
But you! You use me.

So I take a deep breath, count to three
And know your pretense doesn’t bother me.
The truth of my life isn’t easy to hide.
I see your soul, and not with my eyes.

I see you in a different light.
I see you with a different sight.
I see you and I understand.

So I take a deep breath, count to three
And know your pretense doesn’t bother me.
The truth of our lives isn’t easy to hide.
I see your heart, and not with my eyes.

So I take a deep breath; stand with pride;
Look at you understanding why.
You are limited by the things you see.
You don’t have the gift
That was given me, that was given to me.

Maybe I’m blind
But I know clearly
Where there’s no love,
I will love dearly.

There are so many more wonderful experiences that I would love to tell you about. Even better, make your own! You can be part of TAFFY Presents and find new ways to reach out and create a happy spot in the hearts and minds of the children we serve. When we channel our energies together towards developing positive and memorable experiences for tomorrow’s adults…EVERYBODY WINS!