This story was originally published in UConn Today in November 2011.
Whether it’s called ‘giving back’ or ‘paying it forward’ or even ‘institutional outreach,’ in the past dozen years the Jorgensen Outreach for Youth (JOY!) program has given more than 10,000 economically disadvantaged children in eastern Connecticut an introduction to the world of music and drama and dance.
Rod Rock, director of the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, introduced JOY! to UConn in 1999. On Nov. 1, he received a 2011 Provost’s Staff Award for Excellence in Public Engagement recognizing his leadership of the program.
Rock was inspired to expand an informal program of providing free tickets to school children started by his predecessor, Arppie Charkoudian, into a more structured effort because of his own background.
According to Rock, “As a high school student growing up in a very small town in the mid-West, I benefited from a program that provided me with scholarships that allowed me to take private [voice] lessons and attend summer programs my family probably wouldn’t have been able to afford. Without a doubt, this positively altered the course of my future.”
Under Rock’s guidance, and with the full support of Jorgensen’s staff and volunteers, there are a number of initiatives under the JOY! umbrella, including free tickets to performances at the Jorgensen and in-school appearances by visiting performers. The latest addition is a conservatory program that provides scholarships and educational opportunities for disadvantaged and/or musically gifted students through a competitive audition process.
A cooperative effort involving the Neag School of Education and the School of Fine Arts, the conservatory program started with six students in 2007 and has grown to include 15 individuals this year. The musicians range from eighth graders to seniors in high school, and their specialties include instruments as diverse as piano, strings, flute, and voice.
Linda Neelly, an associate professor of music in the Neag School of Education, is a strong proponent of engaging young people in the arts as early as possible.
“The arts are a highly cognitive endeavor,” she says, “involving physical, social, and emotional growth. JOY! reaches students of all ages and talents, and the conservatory program enables us to provide young musicians with private lessons, master classes, and courses in music theory. What’s especially important is that this program enables us to included talented students no matter what their financial situation.”
Echoing Neelly’s comment about the importance of financial support, Rock points to both the SBM Trust in Manchester, Conn. and a special group of Jorgensen benefactors who support the JOY! program. Without them, he says, it wouldn’t be possible to reach the thousands of children in eastern Connecticut who benefit from an early introduction to the arts.
“There’s nothing like giving students the opportunity to see live performances,” Rock says. “The arts are educational by nature, and if you don’t have a chance to experience them, then you’re missing a big, whole, wonderful part of the world.”
A crucial component of the program is the willingness of visiting artists to participate. Adds Rock, “I think that in general you will find that artists have a generous heart, and there’s nothing they love more than to share their talent with others. Because of our location between Boston and New York, we have an opportunity to book some of the best talent available. We’re really pleased with how willing those performers are to share both their time and their talent with school kids in the area.”
In a letter nominating Rock for a 2011 Provost’s Award for Excellence in Public Engagement, Catherine Kalonia, Jorgensen’s marketing director, said, “Under the leadership of Rodney Rock, Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts is the largest college-based presenting program in New England, and one of only a handful of organizations to have an outreach program as comprehensive as JOY! In an economy that will have lasting negative effects on today’s disadvantaged children, Rod is more committed than ever to provide opportunities for all children to discover and grow through the arts. His love for what he does at Jorgensen shines through all of his actions and successes.”
The committee selecting award winners agreed with Kalonia’s assessment, and Rock is among the 10 individuals chosen to receive a 2011 Provost’s Award.
Other recipients of the 2011 Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Public Engagement are:
Undergraduate Student Award
Sarah Harris is an education major in the Neag School of Education. She has provided sustained leadership linking neighborhood organizations and initiatives such as the No Freeze Shelter and local schools in the Windham area. She is also incorporating this work into her honors thesis.
Advanced Degree Student Award
Nicole Fink ’10 (CLAS) is currently pursuing a master’s in social work at the University. She has long been involved in activities within the Asian community, including the Disaster Response Committee for victims of the earthquake in Japan.
Donald Goodreau ’09 (CLAS) is now enrolled in the UConn School of Dental Medicine. He has been actively engaged with the underserved community both through direct services and by working to increase their representation within the dental profession.
Robin McHaelen graduated in 1994 with an MSW from the UConn School of Social Work. McHaelen has been is the founder and an active leader of True Colors Inc. Sexual Minority Youth and Family Services, a non-profit organization that works to create a world where youths, adults, and families of all sexual orientations and gender identities are valued and affirmed.
Landscape Architecture, Plant Science & Landscape Architecture Department, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
This longstanding nationally accredited program has joined faculty with students to provide planning and design assistance to over 300 projects in more than 70 municipalities throughout the state. Communities seek out the expertise of this program to create sustainable treatment of land, landscape, and the public realm.
Puerto Rican & Latin@ Studies Project, School of Social Work
This program was initially started 31 years ago to provide a Puerto Rican studies curriculum to prepare graduate level students to work with Puerto Rican clients on issues impacting their physical and mental health. The mission has grown to advocate changes that improve the quality of life for Latin@s, and strives for excellence in higher education, scholarship, and partnerships.
Early Career Faculty Award
Eric Rice is in his eighth year with the Department of Music, and now serves as its associate department head for graduate studies. An expert in early music, Rice’s commitments to public engagement are demonstrated by his longstanding service as artistic director for the Connecticut Early Music Society and his work with the Collegium Musicum to prepare and present concerts using historical instruments and styles.
Cheryl Czuba is an extension educator for the Middlesex County Extension Center of the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources. Her work with the People Empowering People (PEP) initiative, a personal, family, and leadership development program, engages diverse hard-to-reach groups across the state. It has been replicated in five other states and will soon be implemented in Egypt as well.
Thomas E. Buckley is an assistant clinical professor in the School of Pharmacy. Throughout his career, he has strived to right inequities in health care and empowered patients and their health care providers to realize this goal. He has helped build a pharmacy service at the Mae Tao Clinic near the Thai-Burmese border, and works with Cambodian patients in Connecticut and in California through the use of telemedicine. He also shares his engagement with the outside world with his students at the School of Pharmacy.