In front of the Sears department store, little girls in jazz shoes and ballet slippers sashayed across the floor of the Orlando Fashion Square mall at a recent recital for Journey into the Performing Arts (JITPA), a nonprofit that gives children who otherwise might not have access to performance arts the chance to explore dance and music.
Elizabeth Doolittle, who assists in running JITPA, knows firsthand how expensive the arts can be. Her two children, Shawn and Jessica Doolittle, grew up dancing, singing and performing. Ten years ago, when Shawn and Jessica began performing at fundraisers in Hernando County to raise money for St. Jude’s Children Hospital, she saw how many other children wanted to be involved.
“A lot more kids want to join, but they don’t have that ability of those arts,” she says. “And to be on those activities, it’s so, so expensive.”
So, in addition to the charity fund her children had created, the family started an afterschool program to teach children dance and music.
When Shawn and Jessica came to Orlando to attend classes at the University of Florida, they wanted to bring what they had been doing in Hernando County to Central Florida. Now, in its 4th year in Orlando, the organization operates a small studio in East Orlando and provides an afterschool program at Union Park Elementary School (UPES).
“What’s really become our mission is for the kids to boost up their self-esteem, improve their self-esteem and confidence,” she says. “Because we believe that the music is the really good for kids to get involved.”
Seven-year-old Jireh Lang, a UPES student, was one of the performers at the organization’s Orlando Fashion Square mall show.
Her mom, Nielda Lang, of East Orlando, says the after-school program that JITPA runs has given her daughter confidence. “And it helps her to accept who she is — be proud of who she is,” Lang says.
The organization keeps costs low for parents by using volunteers, including students from local high schools, to help the professional instructors teach classes. In addition, by bargain hunting for costumes and shoes, a child at JITPA can expect to pay much less for a pair of ballet shoes or a costume than at many dance retail stores.
Kids who attend classes at JITPA are also expected to use their talents to give back to the community.
“It’s put in their mind that when they learn here, whatever they learn, they will share by going out there and performing,” says Doolittle.
The organization puts on several shows a year around the community including at retirement homes and the public library. At some events, JITPA requests donations, and whatever the organization receives is given to local children’s charities such as the Ronald McDonald House of Central Florida.
“We’re here for the kids,” Doolittle says.