The AWS Foundation of Fort Wayne has awarded the Jesters program $250,000. The University of Saint Francis-sponsored program engages individuals with disabilities in arts. July 22, 2014

News Release

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — AWS Foundation of Fort Wayne has awarded the University of Saint Francis-sponsored Jesters program $250,000 to support and enhance services.

Jesters was founded at the university in 1978 to engage individuals with disabilities in the creative arts to enhance their quality of life. It seeks to develop self-expression, self-esteem, socialization and other life skills while providing learning opportunities to the USF and local communities.

The grant is the latest in ongoing AWS support for Jesters, a program of the School of Creative Arts. With the mission of helping children and adults with enduring intellectual and physical disabilities to live as fully and independently as possible, AWS has provided funding for Jesters since 2010.

The funding will provide $50,000 in annual program support, doubling for the next five years the Jesters contribution AWS was already making. This will allow the Jesters to concentrate on goals rooted in a strategic plan first developed in 2010-2011 with the support of the AWS Foundation.

The operating budget will support ongoing performance opportunities for people with disabilities, performance costs and salaries for teaching artists. It will also allow the university to enhance student educational opportunities. Internships and volunteerism will strengthen internal ties and alliances within the School of Creative Arts and Department of Education, as special education majors acquire hands-on learning through the Jesters program.

Ways to expand program capacity and cultivate local and regional relationships with like-minded organizations will be explored through expanded hours for the director and assistant director, as they reach out to build relationships.

The funding will also provide for expanded marketing, strategies to diversify funding, increasing awareness of people with disabilities and the Jesters program, and the development of infrastructure to support these efforts.

The number of Jesters participants has doubled in the five years of AWS funding. “I never cease to be surprised at how important the work is—the participants have such pride in their accomplishments—I’m so happy to serve in this way,” said Jesters Director Allison Ballard.

The program provides 20 weeks of customized, structured movement/dance, music (instrumental/voice), theater and visual arts activities from September to March. Each spring the program culminates in an original production by Jesters participants.

“The support of the AWS Foundation is critical to the ongoing growth and development of the Jesters program,” said School of Creative Arts Dean Rick Cartwright. “We are grateful for the long-term commitment and support of AWS.”

“The Jesters’ progressive growth since our funding began has had impressive results, and we wanted to ensure the resources were there to support the expanded infrastructure and performance opportunities for children and adults with disabilities,” said AWS Foundation Executive Director Lynne Gilmore. “This grant represents not only an investment in this one-of-a-kind program, but in the quality of life individuals with disabilities enjoy as a result of being a Jester.”

Source: AWS Foundation of Fort Wayne

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