Center for Creative Education launches satellite afterschool program in New Paltz

The Center for Creative Education has recently began offering weekly afterschool programs at Redeemer Lutheran Church in New Paltz. Offerings include arts and crafts, games, dance, theater and music. This photo was taken during the open Hip Hop dance session. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Unless you’re a rank newcomer to Ulster County, you’ve heard about the Center for Creative Education (CCE). The highly esteemed not-for-profit organization, whose mission is “to enrich the social and cultural awareness of our youth and community through arts, wellness and education,” has been making its mark for 35 years now. If you’ve been to a parade or other mass public event in these parts, the odds are high that you’ve seen and heard the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK) and the Energy Dance Company in action. The Energy dancers have performed everywhere from Jacob’s Pillow to the Apollo Theater to the United Nations and won a long list of regional and national awards. CCE itself was the 2021 honoree for Mohonk Consultations’ 2021 Distinguished Achievement Award (https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2021/09/23/mohonk-consultations-honors-center-for-creative-education-with-distinguished-achievement-award).

Founded in Stone Ridge in 1989 by percussionist Evry Mann to address a dearth of afterschool arts programming, CCE relocated to Midtown Kingston about a decade later, to focus on providing more accessible enrichment to underprivileged urban youth. Since around 2000, when current executive director Bryant “Drew” Andrews first came on board CCE to teach dance classes, the organization’s profile has been closely associated with the City of Kingston. Its headquarters have moved a few times, but it found its permanent home on Cedar Street in 2020 after partnering with RUPCO in the development of the net-zero-energy mixed-use building known as Energy Square.

While Kingston supplies its core clientele, CCE has also made waves throughout the county by bringing afterschool programming to many school districts and community centers. What has been lacking up until now has been a true satellite location where classes can be offered on a regular basis to any interested family in the community. In New Paltz, at the Redeemer Lutheran Church, that is finally happening, beginning with a February 16 Open House event. “I love New Paltz,” says Drew Andrews, who visits the new site every other day. “The energy feels good here.”

According to Andrews, seed money for the expansion came from Marianne Murray’s foundation, Carve for a Cause, which stages an annual Pumpkin Carving Festival to raise funds for Ulster County not-for-profits that “strive to fulfill the basic unmet needs of families and children.” The inspiration came from New Paltz parents who bring their kids to Kingston to partake of CCE’s classes in dance, music, fitness, theater, spoken word, computer arts technology and the visual arts, and who wished for comparable offerings closer to home. “A lot of people don’t know the disadvantaged community that exists here,” Andrews notes. “When schools cut their budgets, the first things that go are the arts programs. To me, the most important thing for kids is to learn how to think critically and tap into their imaginations.”

When Andrews and Murray first began talks with Village of New Paltz mayor Tim Rogers about a possible CCE satellite program, the idea was for the former firehouse next to Village Hall to serve as its headquarters. But soon the reverend Tobias Anderson and deacon Bill Mennenga of Redeemer Lutheran got involved in the planning. “They welcomed us with open arms. We speak the same language of acceptance and inclusion,” Andrews says. “We met with Bill, and he suggested that this space is more suitable. We can run multiple programs at one time.”

A visit to the church facility at 90 Route 32 South, where the new afterschool program is now fully up and running, confirms it to be an excellent match for CCE’s offerings. There’s room in the entry hallway for tables where parents can sign their kids up for classes and learn more about what’s available. The Community Room affords ample space for Lisa Brown to conduct an Open Hip Hop dance session for kids of all ages, while Erin Burton teaches Tippy Toes Ballet out of earshot, in the Northeast Classroom. A small Gathering Room offers a quiet sanctuary for conversation. There’s also another classroom, a conference room and even a small kitchen.

Running from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, the wraparound program, called Find the Fun, gives kids a quiet, supervised place to have a snack and do their homework. Regular Find the Fun offerings include optional math tutoring and a Wednesday Book Club with Zoe Poller. Extra “drop-in classes” beginning at 4 p.m. include Arts and Crafts with Kimberly Guallpa on Mondays; Hip Hop Dance with Malik Andrews, Holistic Drumming with Fre Atlast and Musical Theater with Giovanna Phipps on Tuesdays; Fun Fitness and Chess with Jaime Marryshow and Make Your Own Instruments with Fre Atlast on Wednesdays; Dungeons and Dragons and Tabletop Games with Aiden Pauer plus more Hip Hop Dance on Thursdays; and Open Hip Hop and Tippy Toes Ballet on Fridays, sometimes followed by a Movie Night presentation. 

Fees for all these activities range from $20 for a single drop-in class to $80 per week for full enrollment to $90 monthly for unlimited drop-in classes. As always with CCE, there’s a sliding scale and a scholarship program that currently serves 84 percent of their students; no one is turned away due to inability to pay. “Accessible, affordable, equitable and innovative, high-quality programs with a special emphasis on serving low-income, minority and at-risk children and youth” are what CCE is all about.

As part of their transition to a new community, CCE staff have hired and trained students from SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz High School and New Paltz Middle School to help run the programs and mentor participants. Many attendees go on to become teaching assistants. “Each one teach one: That’s the modality we’ve been working on for over 25 years,” Andrews says, and the success of numerous CCE veterans in their later careers attests to the efficacy of this approach.

That said, the organizers, under the leadership of New Paltz program director Vanessa McKinney, are still on the lookout for new instructors interested in presenting afterschool classes. “We’re always hiring – teaching artists, retired teachers, counselors,” says Andrews. “Background checks are very important. We keep the kids’ health and safety first and foremost. Supervision is our superpower.”

For now, the New Paltz program will be tied in with the school year, although CCE’s Kingston headquarters will continue to offer a five-week Summer Arts Enrichment Camp open to youth from all over Ulster County. Possible future expansion in New Paltz is under discussion, including collaborations with the New Paltz Youth Center.

To learn more about program offerings, register your child or apply to become an instructor, visit https://cce4me.org or e-mail info@cce4me.org.

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