By LINDA M. LINONIS
Children are following a personalized yellow brick road to fun and learning at an acting and dance summer camp offered by Spotlight Performing Arts Studio.
They’re busy making scenery, putting their own stamp on a construction-paper yellow brick road, rehearsing lyrics to songs and learning how to tap — all to present “The Wiz” at 6 p.m. July 30. It will culminate their summer camp experience.
ShaRhonda C. McQueen, Spotlight director, said the program “fills a need” to offer youths something to do to fill summertime hours. Her own experience as a child taking dance lessons from Judy Conti and at the YWCA motivated her to offer something similar to children who otherwise might not have the opportunity.
The camp, open to 5- to 17-year-olds, is more than a fun experience. Working toward the goal of putting on a musical show, McQueen said, helps build confidence and teaches time management along with leadership skills. It also helps develop dancing and singing skills while engaging kids in a physical activity. Older participants help younger ones.
The camp, which began June 4 and runs through July 31, is from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Wick Park pavilion. McQueen said 83 children are registered with 60 rotating in and out and 42 attending regularly. Some participate in the city’s summer recreation program during the day and then come to the summer camp.
McQueen said Spotlight Performing Arts Studio, a nonprofit organization, also has activities such as dance and acting from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays while Saturdays offer dances, Girl Scouts and garden club. About 300 youths — ranging in age from 5 to 17 from Youngstown, Warren, Struthers, Liberty and Austintown — participate. Staff members are from the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association.
“It’s a preventive measure,” McQueen said of Spotlight activities. “We have positive activities, and it helps kids make good choices.”
The campers are working toward “The Wiz” presentation. When they arrive at camp, they watch the video of the movie with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. It’s part entertainment to keep them engaged as other children get there and part to teach the lyrics of the songs they’ll be singing, including “Ease on the Down the Road,” “Wouldn’t Be Seen in Green,” “Soon As I Get Home” and “He’s the Wiz.”
McQueen’s daughter, Nyamekye Dubose, 15, and son, Yohncey McQueen, 14, assist in the program. Nyamekye, youth director, will be Dorothy in the show; Equilla Roberson, a supervisor at Spotlight, will be the good witch; and Monica Beasley, Aunt Emma. Children are still reading for the main character. They also are busy decorating their construction-paper “munchkin” costumes and writing their names on “bricks” on the yellow path. Children also will play crows to round out the cast.
Roberson said she “loves” working with the kids at Spotlight. The Youngstown woman said the program offers a positive activity.
Dorothy Leonard of Youngstown has grandchildren, Jerimiah Leonard, 8, and Judah Leonard, 6, in the summer camp. She’s a volunteer, working on costumes. “I just put pieces of this and that together and it turns out,” she said.
She said she appreciates the program because it “helps fill up time during long summer days.” The summer camp, Leonard said, “gives them the opportunity to try something new.”
Daija Clyburn, 9, said she likes the program because of the arts and crafts and has made new friends.
LaQuinta Weaver said the summer camp “is a better alternative than just sitting around.” The 15-year-old Chaney student in visual and performing arts said the camp experience of making scenery and working with younger kids will help her in school.