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Outreach aims to curb juvenile, gang crime
Pictured (l-r): Cider House Director of Programs Kesi “Epiphany” Shaw, Executive Director Clarenda Stanley and Director of Community Outreach Debra Phillips. - photo by Photo by Andrea Washington
At a time when Liberty County is facing rising juvenile crime and gang involvement rates, one group is teaching young people that art can be more powerful than fists or guns.
The Cider House, Inc. is an outreach organization that focuses on using art-based prevention and intervention courses to foster social, civic and educational responsibility in at-risk youth.
“Cider House concentrates on those who are socio-economically famished. Those are your children from single-parent homes. Those who might be marginally educated or have fallen behind in the education system,” CHI executive director and founder Clarenda Stanley said. “Those are the ones we really want to reach out to.”
CHI's free workshops in spoken word/performance poetry, dance, drama, theatre and the visual arts are all based on developed curriculum for “making good things out of bad apples,” according to Stanley.  
Within a few minutes of getting to know the CHI founder, it is clear her “good things out of bad apples” motto comes from an upbringing that mirrors the lives of many young people who attend her organization's workshops.
The daughter of two college-educated parents, Stanley was raised by her grandmother in Wilcox County in Alabama, one of the state's poorest counties. In 2000, nearly 40 percent of the county’s population lived below the poverty line, including 48 percent under the age of 18 and 32 percent under age 65.
“We’re poor down there. I lived on a dirt road ... killed dinner,” the founder said with a slight chuckle.
Despite attending a poor performing high school and having a child while in the 10th grade, Stanley said the poverty that surrounded her was a source of inspiration to succeed.
“I had to be proactive about my education,” she said. “Unless I wanted to be relegated to living that life for me and my child, I always had that inner sense there was something greater out there.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree, Stanley began working in marketing and public relations, but wondered whether she was on the right path. She decided to pursue a master’s degree in business at Troy University.
A chance meeting with an instructor in the counseling department, however, caused her to make an abrupt change.
“I went and checked out the (counseling) program and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with this degree,” Stanley said. “But I ended up getting a master's in education with an emphasis in counseling and psychology, which is perfect for what I’m doing now.”
What Stanley is doing now is working to change young people's lives through the creative arts with programs. Although she was offering free workshops in 2004, CHI did not officially become a non-profit organization until 2005.
“Once I realized that this was something that was needed and had potential to grow and affect a lot of people, that’s when I decided to go ahead,” she said.
She converted her garage into a workspace and worked with a Savannah College of Art and Design student to create a logo and web site — all at a hefty price.
“I had to deplete my savings,” Stanley said before exhaling a long breathe and laughing. “But I've always been the type that, once I set my mind to something, I invest so much time, I can't not go through with it."
With help from program director Kesi "Epiphany" Shaw and community outreach director Debra Phillips, CHI has developed from those humble garage beginnings into a full-service creative arts initiative that continues to grow each day.
With progress, however, funding and personnel have become concerns.
"In order for us to keep our altruistic view, we're going to have to depend on other means to support what we're trying to do with our mission," Stanley said. "And being a new organization, a lot of people are worried or hesitant to get involved because they want to go with the larger more established institutes."
She said as CHI's name recognition continues to grow in the community, she hopes people will be more willing to donate not only their money, but their time.
"Volunteers are always welcome," Stanley said. "If you're willing to pass out flyers and brochures, that's always a good thing."
New problems not withstanding, the founder remains positive about her organization and its future.
"I've never felt like the Cider House was a burden. It's a blessing," Stanley said. "It's my divine purpose."
For more information about CHI, check out the organization's web site or call Stanley at 980-9274.  

Want to see The Cider House, Inc.'s work live?
The organization will host VOICES: A Celebration of African-Americans through the Arts at Dorchester Academy in Midway on Saturday from 2-4 p.m.
The free event will showcase some of the region's finest artists, along with up-and-coming youth artists, in the areas of music, dance, poetry, and song.
Featured performers for the program include A Nickel Bag of Funk with vocals from Leslie Adele', Mahogany Shades of Beauty Dance Company with award-winning choreography by Weslyn Bowers, the Spitfire Poetry Group and more.
Sponsors for this year's event are the Hinesville Area Arts Council, the Georgia Council for the Arts and the Grassroots Arts Program.

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