UD students, many of them minoring in dance, joined with the Indigenous Pitch Dance Collective this past summer to provide a free dance and arts camp to children affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Serving New Orleans youth

UD students bring dance, arts camp to children affected by Hurricane Katrina

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9:49 a.m., Oct. 3, 2013--University of Delaware students flew to New Orleans this past summer for a two-week service trip, participating in a project that has been taking place there for the past seven years. Their mission: to bring New Orleans youth affected by Hurricane Katrina an opportunity unlike any they had experienced before -- a free dance and arts camp.

The UD group made up one-fifth of an overall group that served in New Orleans. The rest were from the non-profit, Indigenous Pitch Dance Collective (IPDC) based in Philadelphia. 

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IPDC, which was founded after artistic director Lisa Welsh heard of the need of the children of New Orleans after the hurricane, has since expanded its support to both disaster relief and socio-economic disasters, hosting camps in New Orleans, in Haiti and in Philadelphia. 

The UD group, many of them minoring in dance, consisted of students Kelci Atkins, Erica Del Priore, Brielle Evangelista, Casey Jarvis, Michael Rowley, Jen Ryan and Kaya Simonson, who helped run the two-week camp in July at Canal Mosaic Church. The camp hosted children ages 6-14 and included a variety of dance classes, journaling and art during a six-hour day. 

Each week had an overarching theme, “community” for week one and “relationships” for week two. Each day, the children were given a theme to apply to the weekly theme, as well as to the activities that would take place during camp. The purpose of these themes was to relay to the children the importance of building both their communities and relationships on small and large scales. 

With the camp staff coming from all different dance backgrounds, the children were introduced to a wide variety of dance movements: Afro-modern, ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, breaking, tap, jazz, musical theatre and lyrical. 

“Each class offered the children the opportunity to express themselves and learn something most of them had never learned before,” said Lynnette Overby, director of UD’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning. “Dance allowed them to escape from their realities and enter a judgment-free zone for them to grow in as artists and people.”

Each day’s journaling and art time offered the children the opportunity to express themselves through words. Through acrostic name poems, family memoirs, friendship chains and the construction of a make-believe community, each child was able to convey his or her identity, feelings and passions to peers as well as the camp staff. 

These activities also enabled the camp staff to get to know the youngsters on a more one-on-one basis, greatly benefiting both staff and child.

“Participating in this trip to New Orleans with Indigenous Pitch was a great experience, and one that offered insight to the lives of children who are still today affected by a natural disaster,” Overby noted. “Our group from the University of Delaware was able to join Indigenous Pitch to help build the youth in a still recovering New Orleans -- a service we hope to participate in for many years to come.” 

UD and community service

The University of Delaware has numerous partnerships under way to serve communities on local to international levels. A task force has been established to support the University’s application, due in April 2014, to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for the community engagement classification. The foundation awards the elective designation only once every five years to universities that demonstrate, as a whole, a rigorous commitment to community engagement, to addressing societal issues and to working toward the public good.

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