ALLturnatives, Inc. provides low income, at-risk youth an outlet through performing arts
In Charlotte, hundreds of youth have been able to play instruments, play sports and learn mime dancing, all for the low cost of $5.
ALLturnatives, Inc. provides a performing arts education to primarily at-risk, low-income youth. Its curriculum is centered around music, arts, entrepreneurship and sports. Children involved in the program have the ability to engage in a variety of activities including acting, set design, visual arts and drumline.
Michelle Wyms founded the organization in 2012, a year after her mother died. She was inspired by her mother's dedication to helping the community. Her house was a safe space for children in the neighborhood who felt uncomfortable talking to their own parents.
"Growing up in that environment for years, and having the type of family that we had, and seeing other kids who did not have the opportunity to have what I had," Wyms said "I think all kids deserve to have a sense of family."
Wyms was similarly inspired by her brother to include entrepreneurship in the curriculum. As a child, her brother struggled with anger issues, but after being gifted a DJ set and a barber chair, he eventually went on to start a barbershop and ran a small DJ business.
"Obviously, we want our kids to learn and be educated in different ways," Wyms said. "But there are other means to make money and other means to have a sense of self-esteem."
For Wyms, it's important to provide a performing arts education to at-risk youth because it can provide a healthy outlet for struggles at school or home. Drawing can be calming for students, or students who want to express anger can channel it into drumming.
"Instead of putting a gun in their hand, give them a drumstick," Wyms said. "Give them something different. Having those things makes a well-rounded student."
In addition to workshops for adults on parenting skills and entrepreneurship, there are camps for kids that focus on art, miming and sports. ALLturnatives also integrates therapy into its curriculum. Wyms draws on techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy and Aggression Replacement Training, such as holding sessions with kids about how they could respond to different scenarios.
In one instance, children in the drumline split up into two teams. One team was instructed to get a blindfolded student from one end of the room to the other using only verbal directions while members of the other team created as much noise as possible. The intention of the lesson was to show how when you're angry, it can be difficult to listen to others.
"Instead of putting a gun in their hand, give them a drumstick. Give them something different. Having those things makes a well-rounded student."— Michelle Wyms
ALLturnatives offers programs for adults through its "multi-system model," Wyms said. If families want their children to participate in the program, they need to participate too. Wyms asks families to attend events and help in fundraising, and parents often participate in workshops or career fairs.
"A lot of times our kids are dropped off and picked up from different programs, (but) not mine," she said. "You have to be a part of it because I need to see that you are invested in them."
Wyms said she has seen positive outcomes from the program. Some children have been able to overcome behavioral issues and others have said the program is their safe space and the staff and other kids are like family.
"We're here and you're not alone," Wyms said. "If you need us to help turn your words into wisdom, that's our goal."
In the future, Wyms hopes to adapt ALLturnatives into a multi-purpose center that provides services to all youth and families, such as transportation services, therapy and food assistance. Wyms also eventually hopes to expand the drumline to different locations in the county. Right now, the center is in need of vans to transport the children and a trailer to pull equipment to events.
ALLturnatives is currently located in East Charlotte at Sacred Souls Community Church and if you’re in the area on a Saturday afternoon, you just might hear the drumline rehearsing.