“Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand”- This line from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, inspired the creation of an arts ministry in the First Congregational Church of Winter Park, one that reached across the economic and racial divide of Park Avenue to the west side of Winter Park. We called this program, The Jeremiah Project, so inspired were we at the prospect of molding and shaping lives through this outreach effort. Thirteen years hence, The Jeremiah Project provides pottery, digital and performing arts programming for at risk middle school aged students across Central Florida.
We are currently in the midst of our summer program providing programming for at least 100 students from Boys & Girls Clubs in Eatonville, the downtown Orlando Coalition for the Homeless, Bithlo, and the Winter Park Community Center. They come in so shy and leave so connected. They come to this imposing structure (our two story red brick church) in tony Winter Park, Florida, and leave feeling like they belong. Tall, gangly athletic 6th-8th graders are transformed into sculptors and digital designers, creating mugs and bowls on the potter’s wheel and graphic art in the computer lab. A rap video about the labels society uses to define us is also on their summer to-do list.
They are so proud. They love their emerging expertise; they love knowing what a kiln is or a fettling knife and needle tool. They love navigating the Jeremiah blog site and uploading multi-media to their blog pages. They fancy themselves photographers as they pose scenes for pictorial illustrations on their blog pages. The kids treat even the clean up as fun; eager are they to give back. Staff seeks to be invisible, wanting the kids to feel successful. The smiles sneaking up on their sweet faces as the lump of clay transforms into a cereal bowl, a dinosaur, or even wall hanging. It’s hard to know who benefits the most from these interactions, the staff or the kids.
Our staff moves me almost as much as our kids. I love the way the newest members of our team instinctively understand how to make our kids feel successful. Andres, Nikki, and Devan, newly graduated with BFAs in Ceramics from UCF, inconspicuously share their tremendous talents with kids who get up from the pottery wheel believing the symmetry of their pottery piece is entirely due to their own efforts.
Grant, a student at Emery, and Clinnie, a UCF art grad and assistant manager at Sam Flax, laugh and joke with the kids as they help them navigate PicMonkey manipulating photo images into tee-shirt worthy designs celebrating the 4th of July.
None of this would be possible were it not for the generosity of our funders and contributors. The Gurtler Foundation, The Galloway Foundation, The John Templeton Philanthropic Trust, The Hume Foundation, the Welsh Charitable Trust, the Greater Orlando Builder’s Association, the City of Winter Park, and countless individual contributors. We are grateful beyond measure.