Students volunteer at The River, help disabled perform


Fareen Dhuka

Sophomores Gabrielle Solymosy and Leena Hanson helped the kids practice the songs for their performances.

Fareen Dhuka, Staff Writer

As Katherine Johnston entered the art room to prepare for her campers’ final production at The River Performing and Visual Arts Center, a multitude of eager voices startled her. One in particular came from a little boy named Caden who suddenly began singing “Country Roads” by John Denver. Johnston always worked with him in the art room, and they developed a strong friendship after the experience.

“It’s one of his favorite songs, and he got so into it,” Johnston, a junior, said. “It was the best thing I’ve ever seen. The other kids were all just smiling and jumping around, and it was really fun to watch.”

Juniors Eliza Holt and Katherine Johnston volunteered this summer at The River Performing and Visual Arts Center.

The River Performing and Visual Arts Center is a nonprofit organization working with Theater Under the Stars to expand theatrical horizons to individuals with disabilities. The year-round program also offers summer camps, which appealed to both campers and SJS volunteers.

Each weekly session consists of a theme, such as City and State and On the Radio which incorporates visual art, dances and music, encouraging self-expression in the campers. The final production put on for the parents each Friday is a culmination of the kids’ activities throughout the week. Volunteers are assigned to either the art, dance or music room each term, enabling them to work with individual campers and develop stronger bonds.

Senior Margaret Gorman, who has volunteered at The River every summer since seventh grade, reunited with campers she worked with the previous year. With campers as young as four years old, Gorman says the diverse age range makes the camp a fun and unique experience.

This summer, Gorman worked to boost campers’ confidence in the dance studio by holding their hands and dancing with them.

“Just getting them to dance—even if it’s not the right choreography—is still good because they’re having fun,” Gorman said.

Sophomore Leena Hanson also volunteered with The River for two sessions this past summer. During the first week, she worked in the music room and helped the kids learn the songs for their performance at the end of the term. Hanson’s favorite parts were the culminating productions campers were able to put on to exhibit their newfound skills.

“It was touching to see the kids perform on stage while knowing that I helped them get there,” she said.

The program offered a strong sense of community as teens worked with the campers. Teacher assistants also provided advice by suggesting organizations similar to The River in terms of its mission to help disabled kids pursue their passion for theater. The volunteers who attended The River’s program developed a new perspective on the campers and their abilities.

“They are all capable of so much more than what people outside of the organization give them credit for,” Johnston said.