Empowering at-risk children through art

Nearly 25 teens lined the stage and took a bow as crowd members cheered. Among the spectators was one of our very own team members, Financial Institutions Group regional manager, Zlata Huddleston, who helped the young actors put together the set just days before the performance.

This is Huddleston's fourth year volunteering her talents at DAREarts, a Toronto-area children's summer camp art program aimed to empower children who are facing life challenges. Huddleston continues to serve on the DAREarts board and this year she worked on the camp's fundraising committee. With a United Way Worldwide Wells Fargo grant, the camp was able to pay for a professional theater director and space rental for its performance of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."

Just four days before the show, Huddleston visited with campers to help design the stage set. To keep the whimsical theme of Twelfth Night, campers were given ink to paint splatter onto large plastic sheets. Huddleston explained this abstract art helped create and convey the emotions of Shakespeare's play.

"I strongly believe in the power of art," said Huddleston. Huddleston shared with us that before entering into the corporate world she majored in art before switching to business and finance. "I believe creativity allows kids to grow leadership skills and helps children learn how to succeed."

Huddleston told us that she was able to watch the campers grow as they gained confidence by practicing their lines. She said the highlight of the event was being able to watch one camper with dyslexia and another with autism sing and speak on stage, and command an audience of nearly 80 people. "It's amazing how much they were able to accomplish in one week," said Huddleston.

"I feel like I am making a difference," Huddleston further added. Focused on diversity and inclusion, she said this is an event she plans to take part in again next year.

With DAREarts' workshops impacting 10,000 at-risk kids across Canada per year, (8,000 are in the GTA), there is plenty of need for volunteers to not only work with the kids but also help the charity fundraise in creative ways plus spread the amazing stories of the kids' success.