Grace in the Summer 2017 show, Oliver! Photo credit: Tom Topinka

Marna Bales, Singer/Songwriter & Executive Producer, Red Amp Audio
“As a performing artist, and one who was fortunate enough to take some dance and music classes growing up, I love SPARC. I think all kids need to have a place where they can have their creativity encouraged and supported through training. And I especially love that SPARC is all inclusive – meaning it is open to all youth regardless of disability or income.”

Upon entering middle school, Grace was bullied. She also began struggling with food, eating and body image. The mounting pressures led to an eating disorder that quickly took over her life. By the eighth grade, she had to have supervision every time she ate and was rarely left alone.

Grace had been involved with SPARC, one of the nation’s most comprehensive, community-based youth performing arts education organizations, since she was 7 years old. The summer after the eighth grade, Grace attended the organization’s summer camp, where she was surrounded by people who accepted and supported her. The camp gave Grace a place where she could totally be herself.

Grace also participated in SPARC’s LIVE ART program, which culminates in an annual performance of music, dance, visual art and human connection. Involving students both with and without disabilities, the LIVE ART curriculum focuses on compassion, acceptance, respect, and empathy. Grace was not only on the receiving end of this support, but also was given the invaluable opportunity to support others. This experience made the young woman realize that everyone, even those who fit societal norms, needs a shoulder sometimes.

Today, Grace, who is in recovery from her eating disorder, is a sophomore at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology. SPARC and LIVE ART remain touchstones for her.

Says Grace’s mom, “Every kid deserves a place where they can just be who they are and where who they are becoming is nurtured and celebrated.”

Help influence young people’s lives through performing arts education by donating or volunteering today at SPARC!