Can One Man Make a Difference? A Community Says Yes!

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(DGIwire) We’ve heard it before. All the expressions and niceties about “being the change you want to see.” “Believe it and you can be it.” “It all begins with you.” “Just do it.” Well, for one community in Osceola County, Florida, one man took those platitudes to heart. Evan Todd is that man. Kissimmee, Florida is that place. stART is that change.

Evan Todd has always been about making changes. At the age of 13 he began volunteering at Give Kids The World – a non-profit organization in service of children with terminal illnesses. Then, during his first year at Juilliard, Evan organized the conservatory’s first ever “World AIDS Day Performance” benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. In his spare time? He co-founded artsINSIDEOUT, an arts-based summer outreach and empowerment program working with children affected by AIDS in South Africa.

He soon realized something was missing. On a return trip home he knew exactly what it was.

“One of the best feelings in the world is being able to come back to my hometown and feel as if I am contributing something to my own ‘backyard’”.

The change was born. For more than a year he worked with his mentor and former middle school drama teacher, Janine Cochran, to develop a program that would involve 10 Juilliard students placed in Kissimmee for two weeks to teach. Kissimmee students would have the opportunity to take classes in acting, dance, movement, improvisation, theater games, singing and poetry. At the same time, each would be coached individually on material for college auditions, while also developing an original ensemble performance that would be premiered on the last day.

“Before we knew it there were more than 300 students applying to participate, and our ‘small’ program designed for 80 kids had grown into the largest student initiated outreach program Juilliard had seen- working with over 160 middle and high school students from every school in the county,” says Mr. Todd.

The program exploded and the entire community contributed to ensure that this project would not just happen as a one-time event, but instead would continue to grow.   Grow it did:  stART is now going into its 5th year and is working toward developing a College Track program and Scholarship Fund to help Osceola students continue their education and training beyond Central Florida.

“None of this would have been possible without the generosity and support of the Osceola County School Board members, parents, teachers, the Juilliard School, and all of the donors and volunteers who were kind enough to believe in this project,” says Mr. Todd.

The program has grown to encompass all of Osceola County and is growing each year.  Visit their website at www.startosceola.org for more information.

“By embracing our role as artists who are citizens of the world, we can create positive and profound change,” Mr. Todd concludes.

In his Off-Broadway debut, Evan Todd can be seen as Kurt in “Heathers: The Musical”, based on the 1989 cult movie with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater and written by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe; Off Broadway at New World Stages at 340 West 50th Street in NYC. For ticket information please visit heathersthemusical.com

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