"Individual effort, as small as it may sometimes seem, can make a difference....Our efforts here will leave a legacy."
Twelve-year-old Jordan Schwartz of Marietta, GA, formed a bilingual theater group for children who are learning English or Spanish. She recently added the 2005 Prudential Spirit of Community Award to her growing list of awards and recognition for her community service.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Jordan: I am the founder of The Children's Bilingual Theater, a theater outreach where kids learning Spanish and ESOL students have the opportunity to participate in theater, practice their new languages and work to bridge language and cultural gaps.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Jordan: The Children's Bilingual Theater is based in Marietta, GA.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Jordan: The Children's Bilingual Theater is a theater outreach, serving the growing Hispanic community and bridging language and cultural gaps, giving kids learning Spanish and English Speakers of other languages a place to use Spanish, practice English and have a lot of fun. Theater is like a team sport, and it helps kids learn confidence and public speaking skills, and it allows a diverse and multi-age group to work together.
What inspired you to get involved?
Jordan: Since my area has a growing Hispanic community (300% since last census), and no one else was doing this, I decided, why not me? It all became important after seeing my Mom help a lady at the airport who had left her travel documents on another plane and needed help. There was no translator for over an hour, but with my Mom's help, the proper documents were translated, and the lady was on her way. My Mom's language skills made a personal difference way over in London, so I knew that my idea could make a difference, too.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Jordan: My Mom is bilingual and I have been learning Spanish little by little since I was small, and in second grade I started in community theater. I saw that multilingual or Spanish theater was not done here, and in school ESOL students did not have the opportunity to participate in plays or assemblies because their English was not strong enough yet, so I decided that merging my two interests, Spanish and theater, would work.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Jordan: I count the success of The Children's Bilingual Theater not only in terms of productions and audiences. Seeing a kid who starts from looking at their feet and not at all projecting [their voice], and then ends up on the stage, loud, with a smile on their face and doing the biggest bow – that's success. Second best is seeing kids in the audience light up when they hear their first language on stage, and with the kids who learning Spanish, when you see that they are understanding more, it's great.
What is/was the hardest part?
Jordan: The touring – I don't have a set venue, and the last big show toured four schools, and we did eight shows, so moving sets and costumes and getting 17 people ready in a different place each week was hard work, but the volunteers did a great job. This next show will be in only one Parks and Recreation black box theater, and the audiences will come to us; that will be easier.
What was the biggest surprise?
Jordan: I started the theater outreach because I thought it was a good thing while I was attending Sedalia Park Elementary School. I continued the outreach when I moved to Atlanta Girls' School by introducing my drama club to an "at-risk" school's read-a-thon. They nominated me for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, and I was selected as the middle school winner. I went to Washington, D.C., and got to meet Gen. Colin Powell. It was like a dream, and besides that, the theater outreach is going strong, and so much of the community is helping. Funding is easier now that we are known, and here we are, doing another read-a-thon, a new show and theatrical storytelling for Fernbank Museum.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Jordan: I have improved my Spanish, and I have a better business sense about the outreach and realized that for the work to carry on, a good business sense is important, and that good press really helps with credibility and support.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Jordan: Community service is of value to many aspects in a young person's life, from the service itself to teaching young people the adult world of business and how to become successful in it. It is a way to build self-respect. It provides a healthy, effective venue for expression and exploration. However, before we, as young people, are willing to undertake constructive action outside of the home, I want to encourage you with these words: "Individual effort, as small as it may sometimes seem, can make a difference.” Along with that, remember that role models are everything, and our efforts here will leave a legacy. Please get involved.
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