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Citywide Program Connects Teens on Probation to Arts and Education

 Members of the CUNY Creative Arts Team are working with youth on probation as part of the NeON Arts program, which helps connect individuals to their community.
Members of the CUNY Creative Arts Team are working with youth on probation as part of the NeON Arts program, which helps connect individuals to their community.
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CUNY - Creative Arts Team

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A citywide educational initiative is helping young people on probation express their creativity through a series of art workshops.

Young people in Bedford-Stuyvesant will conclude a four-month session led by the CUNY Creative Arts team as part of the Department of Probation’s Neighborhood Opportunity Network, or NeON.

Participants in NeON Arts are set to perform scenarios including monologues, poetry and mock interview presentations during their final showcase this weekend at Bed-Stuy’s Multi-Service Center.

Up to 15 individuals ranging in age from 16 to 23 attend educational and skill-building activities each week to address social issues that are important to them, including personal identity and local violence.

“The interactive theater hones in on critical thinking and decision making. Everyone can learn from everyone and no one is smarter than anyone in the room,” said Keith Johnston, director of the Creative Arts Team’s college/adult program.

“This final presentation also encompasses a networking opportunity for them with the community.” 

He and Denise Hughes, CAT's coordinator for the NeON project, partnered with acting teachers and participants from Good Shepherd Services’ Arches program for the initiative.

The group mentoring organization at Sumner Community Center works with young adults previously involved in criminal activity.

“For them it’s a new way of expressing themselves, and also something fun for them to do,” Hughes said.

“We’ve heard that several participants don’t always speak up but, because of this opportunity, they’re finding their voices in other ways.”

In addition to the Bed-Stuy team, NeON Arts hosts programs with other organizations in Brownsville, East New York, Harlem, Jamaica, the South Bronx and Staten Island.

Similar sessions utilize computer animated video, documentary film production and culinary workshops.

The program first began in 2014 with the help of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in order to connect probation clients to an array of resources and agencies.

“NeON Arts not only provides access to arts programming to some of NYC’s historically most underserved areas, but also gives community stakeholders a chance to choose the projects that are the best fit for their own neighborhoods,” DOP Commissioner Ana Bermúdez said in a statement.

The initiative is funded by the Open Society Foundations through a grant to New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative.

Bed-Stuy’s “RISE: Reach, Inspire and Succeed Ensemble” will perform on Saturday, June 27 at 1 p.m. at the Multi-Service Center, 1958 Fulton St. For more information, visit the NeON Arts website.