The River offers fine arts for children of all abilities
In 1997, Cathy Binstock’s three-year-old daughter, Samantha, told her mother she wanted to take ballet. Cathy searched all over Houston for a program that would allow her daughter to participate. You see, Samantha has cerebral palsy; and her walking, talking, balance and eyesight are affected. Cathy soon learned there were no programs in the area with the facilities or equipment to accept Samantha.
She refused to give up on her daughter’s dream, so she held a fundraiser in her home and hired a dance instructor from St. John’s School to teach creative movement. That first class had only seven students. Soon, The River Performing and Visual Arts Center was founded by Cathy and her husband, Bob Binstock. The center aimed to provide artistic education for children who could not participate in other fine arts programs due to disability or inability to pay. The River has grown over the years, serving 660 children in 2005 and more than 6,000 children since its small beginnings in 1997.
In the Greater Houston area alone, there are more than 60,000 children with special needs. The River aims to serve as many as possible, whether they have autism, visual and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, developmental delays or other challenges. The unique program allows children to work hands-on in the arts by uniting teaching artists with students who require special care or assistance. The program boosts the children’s self-esteem, socialization skills and ability to follow directions. The River provides scholarships for up to 92 percent of the children in the program, so that the arts are available to all students, regardless of their ability to pay.
All in the family
Since its inception, The River has included the siblings of participating students in the arts programs. This inclusion allows siblings to learn greater patience and understanding from The River’s caring environment. Oftentimes, this is the only opportunity siblings have to participate in arts activities with each other. Additionally, The River provides respite care for up to three hours on Saturdays and five hours a day during summer camp, from which parents have greatly benefited.
Saturday morning art
Saturday morning cartoons, move over! The River is offering 18 one-hour classes on Saturdays this year with topics like dance, music, visual arts, theater, mime, storytelling, music therapy, costuming and props, and photography. With a teaching artist, a teacher’s aide and volunteers in each class, each student has the one-on-one assistance he/she needs to get the most out of every minute in every class. This program is available for 10 weeks during the spring semester and 10 weeks during the fall semester at the Houston Metropolitan Multi-service Center. On the last day of class, the children perform a recital on stage, providing a sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm for everyone to enjoy.
Summer of fun
The River offers a Fine Arts Summer Camp in June and July for six weeks at the Houston Metropolitan Multi-service Center. The children attend the camp Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. The classes focus on a central theme, including music, dance, drama, art, and costume and props, and conclude with a recital each Friday. The students get to work on all aspects of putting on a show by creating backdrops, costumes, props and musical instruments for the weekly recitals.
Through the River’s Outreach Program, local schools, social service agencies and other community groups that serve qualifying children are provided with independent teaching artists. The teachers instruct a 30-minute to one-hour class (primarily music therapy or creative movement) for two to three months during a semester. They provide expressive art therapy methods in life-skills classes for special education classrooms and to economically disadvantaged children in the Greater Houston area. Each site provides a classroom teacher to help students with their projects and learn new ways of applying arts to students with diverse abilities, enhancing other core educational classes.
Lending a helping hand
A critical asset at the heart of The River is volunteers. Approximately 170 individuals volunteer and provide one-on-one assistance to the students, thus enabling them to participate to the fullest. Many students from local high schools volunteer at The River, as well as other community service groups. All volunteers receive community service hours for their time and support.
Artwork created by students at The River will be included in The Children’s Museum of Houston Cyber Clubhouse through May 14. The Boston Children’s Museum’s disability awareness exhibit, access/ABILITY, will be at the museum during this time, and The River’s pieces will be the local component of the exhibit. The works will include paintings, acrylics, photographs and murals created by the wonderful children at The River. H
The River Performing and Visual Arts Center, 1475 W. Gray, (713) 529-1220, -www.riverperformingvisualarts.com