At Oberlin and for Hilltown Youth, I’ve written several grants. I also took a Grant Writing class at Oberlin College. The one here is a generic template I created for the Recovery Theatre Program. I’ve used this language to create specific grants for specific grant makers on several occasions.
RECOVERY THEATRE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Statement of Need: Massachusetts is currently experiencing an epidemic of opiate addiction that is ravaging our communities and our youth. Task forces have been formed and prevention budgets bolstered. However, if we expect young people to “just say no” to a chemical high we must offer a healing alternative: their own creativity. Bringing adolescent substance users back into healthy connection and community is a vitally important piece of the puzzle when designing programming for this population; and this is the exact work that the Recovery Theatre program has taken on.
Project Description: The Recovery Theatre is a performing arts experience for young people overcoming trauma, addiction, anxiety, depression and other behavioral health challenges. It is a space where teens struggling with mental health issues are valued as artists not patients. A mixture of flying trapeze and aerial silks along with letter writing and structured conversations creates a community where the teens support each other in taking tremendous risks, physically (as with flying trapeze) and emotionally (as with committing themselves to their recovery).
Budget: In 2017 we provided meaningful summer employment in the arts for 16 young people. All but one were alumni of our programs. Additionally, 90% of the kids in the Recovery Theatre receive financial aid. One of our core principles is that no family will ever be turned away due to an inability to pay. Period. The money from this grant would allow us to continue our practices of hiring young people and keeping our program financially accessible.
Organization Information: The Hilltown Youth Performing Arts Program is an innovative year round after school and summer performing arts program. Our mission is to build supportive, creative communities and to put on great shows! Along with the Recovery Theatre we offer a three weeklong Summer Theatre Workshop, as well as a Theatre enrichment program in the elementary schools in the Mohawk school districts. Some performance groups find a tension between being community focused and upholding rigorous artistic standards. We have found that it is precisely our strong emphasis on community building and, as the founder likes to say, “making everyone feel loved and cherished”, that allows us to make children’s theatre with the unique scale and quality that our productions have.
Conclusion: In 2017, for the first time, the two “leads” in our outdoor, traveling summer spectacle came out of the two-week, pre-workshop Recovery Intensive. The word lead is in quotes because our leads, literally, lead the company in all its endeavors. Recovery Intensives are now held year round in winter, spring, summer and fall – and there are many kids who come to every one. We are working to continue expanding and serving our community’s youth. Receiving this grant would help us further these goals.
STATEMENT OF NEED
Massachusetts is currently experiencing an epidemic of opiate addiction that is ravaging our communities and our youth. Task forces have been formed and prevention budgets bolstered. It is in the headlines on an almost daily basis. However, if we expect young people to “just say no” to a chemical high we must offer a healing alternative: their own creativity. Bringing adolescent substance users back into healthy connection and community is a vitally important piece of the puzzle when designing programming for this population; and this is the work that the Recovery Theatre program has taken on.
The geographic position of Franklin County off of Interstate-91 has made our community a prime target for drug trafficking along I-91, which has been nicknamed the “heroin highway.” In the past ten years, heroin use has grown exponentially in our community and in the past three years the rate of youth prescription drug misuse and abuse has nearly doubled, making substance use in adolescence a critically important problem to address in order to meet the needs of local families.
Bringing adolescent substance users back into healthy connection and community is a vitally important piece of the puzzle when designing programming for this population. At the heart of addiction and craving is traumatic stress, the stuck, and hence repeating, energetic survival states of fight, flight or freeze. Drugs and alcohol disconnect people from these bodily sensations, and so prevent them from resolving. For adolescents, especially, substance use is also a risk-taking activity that releases dopamine and endorphins which activates parts of the brain associated with pleasure. Consequently, the field of addiction medicine is paying more attention to the neurobiology of trauma. We process trauma and addiction physiologically, it involves more than just the mind. With a focus on the mind-body connection and somatic psychotherapies, the challenge is to develop creative ways to intervene in and disrupt self-destructive patterns of abuse. Our innovative interventions take into account adolescents developing endocrine and nervous systems, incorporate families and social supports and emphasize peer interactions so important to this age group.
With addiction and mental health comes with heavy stigma. Working with kids with these issues is soul-trying work. The reason isn’t hard to fathom: Most people don’t get better—or stay better for long. Fewer than 50 percent of addicts are still clean one year after treatment, while fully 90 percent experience at least one relapse during the first four years following treatment, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Adolescents in particular can repeat self-destructive behavior with a stamina that can wear down the patience of the most seasoned and committed staff. Even when people do get better, we’re often not there to witness the recovery. Oftentimes, clients drop out of programs long before they are able to get clean and sober. As a consequence, combatting nihilism and despair is a huge part of our mission. Kids living with these situations often find it much harder to have a supportive community of friends and peers. These kinds of groups are essential for adolescents, as they transition into adulthood. It is not just the physiological damages of addiction that’s so dangerous for our youth. The social ramifications for the kids who are affected play a huge role in the devastating effects it can have.
The Recovery Theatre is a performing arts experience for young people overcoming trauma, addiction, anxiety, depression and other behavioral health challenges. It is a space where teens struggling with mental health issues are valued as artists not patients. A mixture of flying trapeze and aerial silks along with letter writing and structured, therapeutic, conversations creates a community where the teens support each other in taking tremendous risks, physically (as with the trapeze) and emotionally (as with committing themselves to their recovery).
The Recovery Theatre practices a strength-based approach to working with these populations, where we focus on the kids’ passion and excitement rather than the problems they struggle with. Often these kids don’t have the same kind of communities and supportive friends that other kids their age have. The goal of our programs is to treat them like artists and young adults, rather than as patients, and give them a space to form the kind of close-knit, supportive communities that they might not have otherwise. Our program helps kids form these relationships through the physical practices and activities we do during the program. The flying trapeze is a centerpiece of this program. The kids get to fly on the thirty-foot rig, learn tricks, and even “get caught”, where someone on an adjacent trapeze bar grabs their hands and they let go of their bar. Another physical core of our program is “training” which is essentially a full body follow the leader. Kids get to experiment with moving and while there’s one leader, everyone else gets to practice following and attuning to their movement. We follow up the skills and relationships that the kids make doing these activities with more structured, therapeutic exercises like letter-writing and structured group conversations about what they are struggling with.
Our objectives for the Recovery Intensive are:
- That kids will move in these ways with each other.
- That they’ll get practice in not just taking these physical risks but in supporting their peers as well.
- We hope that they’ll have some practice articulating their feelings and needs.
- We hope to have high retention and attendance rates
We start every Recovery Theatre Intensive with a lantern light training. We meet at 8:00 in the Heath Elementary School Building where most of the Intensive takes place. We light candles and lanterns and turn out all the overhead lights. Before introducing ourselves, we train for two and a half hours. This is the full-body follow the leader exercise. Moving without talking, music playing from the speakers we move and improvise late into the night. We attune to each other and run, jump, roll and wiggle throughout the entire building and grounds. Finally, we come together as a whole group. Still before formal introductions are made, we write letters. The prompt is generally “write a letter to your addiction/problem” but there are some variations. We each write our letters (including the facilitators), and then come back together again. At this point, it’s 11pm. We finally do our introductions, saying our names, any reflections from the hours of training, and sharing as much or little as you want from your letter. One participant described this evening, saying
It never ceases to amaze me how a dozen people, all with messy lives and loads of luggage, have the ability to create the most calming and therapeutic environment for one another. We had the whole building to ourselves, only lit by a total of four lanterns. I was so worry free I lost the concept of time. My only focus was breathing to the music and matching my body movements to everybody else’s. It sounds strange but it’s the best therapy I’ve had in my whole life in comparison to sitting on a couch with my muscles tense and ready to bolt out of the room at any second. After the training, we gathered again in the lantern lit space to put some words into writing.
This is the note we start our week on. Spending so much time working together before we get into introductions and remember why we’re here is crucial to jump-starting the kind of close-knit communities that get built over the course of the program. Then, when we finally do talk, jumping right in to the intimate and vulnerable bonds the participants together. We do this ritual at the start of every Recovery Theatre Intensive. Normal days after that are a combination of training, flying trapeze and aerial silks, “devised conversations” which are structured, therapeutic, conversations that address the issues the kids deal with directly, visual art, and theater creation where we often write scenes about what the kids struggle with.
An average Recovery Theatre day schedule is:
9:30 – Arrive, start with training. We start indoors, but often make our way outside, around the campus, and utilize wooden spools and aerial silks.
10:30 – Break into groups. A few kids will go to the trapeze and practice skills there. Another group will work either writing music, or writing theater scenes. After about 45 minutes, the groups will switch.
12:00 – We bring our lunches and eat together in a circle. While we eat, we sit and have a “devised conversation” where we choose a topic relevant to the experiences of one or more of our participants, i.e. self harm, anxiety, or substance use and talk about it as a group. It’s a space where kids can share their experiences and give and receive support from their peers. The focus is not treatment or cure, but on honest sharing.
1:00 – Appreciations, and kids get picked up!
We end every single day the same way. We sit in a circle, and we say what we appreciated about the day, from reckless acts of bravery to parents bringing pizza for lunch. This ritual bookends each day, making sure we end all together, with intention.
We work with kids who struggle with addiction and mental illness, but we aren’t a rehab facility or clinic. This is our strength, we give the kids a sense of community and artistic agency that they might not be able to find elsewhere. This focus also makes our programs harder to evaluate, since we don’t measure our success in terms of
cures and treatments. One key evaluative tool we have are testimonials, from both participants and their parents. We send a brief questionnaire to all our participants at the end of the workshop. We also keep track of our attendance rates, and our retention rates. This lets us get another view of how much the kids and their families like the programs. Finally, we have someone on set almost daily who takes pictures and helps to record the experience.
When it comes to achieving outcomes, our best asset is our gifted and dedicated staff and faculty. Their ability to excite our talented ensemble and nurture and mentor its members is what drives the work and sets our program apart. Jonathon Diamond is the founder and executive director of Hilltown Youth, he runs the Recovery Theatre program. Jonathon has a private psychotherapy practice that specializes in addiction and the clinical needs of adolescents and has published extensively on both topics. He is an expert in the therapeutic side of the work we do and, along with associate artistic director Zach Arfa, leads the kind of structured, therapeutic conversations and letter-writing activities we do. Arlie Hart owns and operates the flying trapeze rig, and he has a crew of “extended family” (his sons, as well as young people who worked with him in the programs growing up but now are his staff) that teach and operate the trapeze. The physical “training” is led by Jonathon and Zach, but we operate with an all-in attitude, so everyone takes many turns leading.
In collaboration with our state representatives and senator, Hilltown Youth secured a legislative earmark of $15,000 in 2019 from the state government. This is funding we are hoping to grow in future years, in 2020 our legislators expect us to be able to secure a bit more. In the winter of 2020 we attended a program called LaunchU, to design a business model that doesn’t rely on participant tuition. The plan is a website redesign, where each of our participants can have a profile. Donors can come to the page, and subscribe to any number of them at different pay tiers. Current funding we receive will help us keep putting on our programs, and provide the money we need to implement this new model.
The Hilltown Youth Performing Arts Program is an innovative year round after school and summer performing arts program. Our mission is to build supportive, creative communities and to put on great shows! It is part of an effort to use theater to create a larger sense of community that transcends buildings and school campuses and instills in young people a sense of place and appreciation of rural hill town life.
Along with the Recovery Theatre we offer a three-week-long Summer Theatre Workshop, as well as a Theatre enrichment program in the elementary schools in the Mohawk school districts. In our summer workshop, we put on a show of gigantic proportions. Set outdoors, in our performances the audience physically follows the actors around from scene to scene, embarking on the adventure with them. We utilize large apparatuses like flying trapeze, aerial silks, ziplines and even a chair lift on a ski mountain to sustain shows of this scale. The Theatre Enrichment program takes place in the winter and stars our elementary schoolers. Though the shows are indoors, they utilize the entire school building, along with wooden spools, aerial silks and three-story scaffolding so the audience has another immersive experience.
We see the three programs we run as vitally interconnected. Often our Recovery Theatre kids will continue and participate in the Summer Workshop. The Recovery Theatre often acts as a stepping stone for these kids into finding a larger community through the Summer Workshop. In 2017, for the first time, the two “leads” in our outdoor, traveling summer spectacle came out of the two-week, pre-workshop Recovery Intensive. The word lead is in quotes because our leads, literally, lead the company in all its endeavors.
Last year, nineteen middle and high school aged student-volunteers, members of the Summer Workshop and Recovery Theatre joined us at different times on the set to assist with the Theatre Enrichment Program. The Theatre Enrichment Program provides these talented older students with a residency experience that provides them stipends and the possibility of year-round employment in the local arts economy. This is especially pertinent to members of the Recovery Theatre. Clinically, mentoring these younger children helps teens develop compassion, empathy and leadership skills. For adolescents whose own elementary years were colored by addiction, violence and trauma, it’s healing for them to revisit this developmental phase of life.
We provide arts experiences in schools underfunded in the arts with the Theatre Enrichment, and we provide meaningful summer employment in the arts for young adults in the community, most of whom are graduates of our programs. We put on professional caliber youth theater productions that are free of charge, and we create spaces where kids make close, supportive friendships. Our organization is built around theater and community building, and everything we do supports that mission.
Our programs incorporate circus apparatus, theatre, art, music and movement but our business is hope. The healing and transformation we witness on a daily basis in our Intensives is inspiring. Working with young people who abuse drugs or alcohol poses formidable challenges. Addicted persons are often confronting multiple, complex, problems from denial of the addiction itself to legacies of early trauma and abuse to histories of anxiety, depression and self-harm.
Last summer, a thirteen year-old girl, just out of rehab for drug addiction and bulimia, shared that our training was the first time she got the chance to write about rehab or met other peers as young as her who were also addicts and the first time she had a chance to stand up and speak her truth in front of others. At the end of the week, she said she would have been more tempted to go back to using if she had not had those weeks in Charlemont, writing monologues, learning ensemble and flying on trapeze with us.
The unique combination of focus on healing and recovery, community building, and artistic rigor sets the Recovery Theatre apart as a pioneer in both the therapeutic and theatrical worlds. Our holistic, strength-based model serves to give our participants a sense of pride, in themselves and in their abilities when they might not have it. It often gives our kids a platform from which to commit themselves to their Recovery, and the support to follow through. The successes we see are often small and hard to quantify, yet we revel in each one. It’s profound to watch these kids gain confidence through the course of the workshop and community we build together. We want to continue serving the youth of our community, and the support from this grant would let us do it.