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Cumberlands teams up with Whitley County to help youth

Williasmburg, Ky.The University of the Cumberlands Theatre Department and the Whitley County Court Designated Worker Program presented the Theatre in Diversion Program on Thursday, March 31. The event was held in the Grace Crum Rollins Fine Arts Center on Uc’s campus. For the past nine weeks, the Theatre Outreach class at Cumberlands has been meeting with juveniles in the Whitley County area as part of the Theatre in Diversion Program, which is a national program in the court system that provides children who have committed a crime the opportunity to take an alternative route other than going to court and establishing a criminal record. The goal of the program is to keep the court system clear for more serious offenses and to provide activities for juveniles to take part in.

UC has stepped in to provide students as mentors and fellow actors in the upcoming play. The students referred to as volunteer teachers include Jordyne Gunthert, of Seymour, Tenn., Michael Perkins of Georgetown, Ky., Jordan Robinson of Mt. Vernon, Ky., Shoshana Sims of Paris, Ky. And Susan Stephenson of Hamilton, Ohio.

"The Theatre in Diversion program began with the broad goal of building relationships with the students and teaching them a little bit about theatre along the way,” said Gunthert. €We wanted to be good role models for them, while also giving them an outlet and a hobby outside of school. While our plans on how to do this changed as the ten week program progressed, our goals did not. By the time the group officially says goodbye on Tuesday, I'm proud to say we will have gone above and beyond these goals. We've had an incredible time getting to know these students, laughing with them, learning with them, and discovering what it means to be a teen in this area of Kentucky and what they struggle with. We won't ever truly know the difference we have had in their lives, but each of the student teachers could tell you a way they have changed us. I'm going to miss working with each one of them."

The program is designed to teach good decision-making and build character through improvisation acting skills. Beginning in January, Theatre in Diversion met once a week to work on developing team-building and learn basic acting skills. Towards the end of February the group started meeting twice a week to develop the play and every meeting lasted around two hours.

Using improvisation, the Theatre Outreach group developed a 45 minute one-act play about a high school student who gets caught up in his school’s drug culture.

“I’m really pleased and impressed with how far this group has come in the time we’ve been working together because it’s not often that an improv group can meet a couple hours only once or twice a week and develop a one-act play,” exclaimed Dr. Kim Miller, Assistant Professor of Theatre. €Both the students and the volunteer teachers have created interesting characters with complex lives. There is one main story we are telling, but there a lot of stories left untold due to the time constraint on our performance.”

The volunteer teachers helping out in the program have been addressing problems that areas kids face every day at the request of local court case worker UC alumnus, Thera Trammell. The main issue and topic of discussion has been drug abuse.

“The Mission of the Court Designated Worker Program is to reduce delinquency among Kentucky’s youth through a collaboration of statewide pre-court services and programs that promote education and accountability,” said Thera Trammell. €The Theatre in Diversion Program at University of the Cumberlands provided services that allowed some of our Whitley County youth to be able to work with college students while being taught decision making skills, completing confidence building activities, and awarding opportunities to think creatively and make the program their own. Over the course of the ten week program the youth evolved and some have even expressed their interest in studying theatre in the future. A special thank you to Dr. Miller and all of the student teachers that helped make the Theatre in Diversion a success!”

“The performance was incredible and very well received from the audience,” said Miller. €The administrators of the court designated worker program told us our performance was one of the best they had seen and that we took the program to a new level.”