HURRICANE, W.Va. -- When Arts In Action began in 1998 as a class of 10 teenagers in a local church basement in Hurricane, founding director Joni Cantrell said she couldn't foresee how much the organization would grow.
"Looking back, I wouldn't have anticipated such growth in such a short period of time," Cantrell said. "However, when you look at the impact the program is having, you would predict that type of growth. We've only been able to serve the community and grow because of support in the community."
Arts In Action, a nonprofit organization based in Hurricane, offers dance, piano, voice, drums, theater, visual arts and martial arts classes to children between the ages of 4 and 18. The program, which has two Hurricane campuses, a St. Albans site and a campus for at-risk and underserved kids on Charleston's West Side, serves more than 350 students every year.
"Lifelong skills such as discipline, dependability, dedication, goal setting, work ethic and team work are just a few of the things students learn by participating in our programs," Cantrell said.
According to Cantrell, the organization is not faith-based, but operates with a Christian influence. Families enrolled in the program come from 35 different denominations, including Hinduism and Judaism, as well as secular households.
Cantrell said it isn't mandatory that students participate in the prayer, devotion time and memorizing scriptures offered before and after each class at Arts In Action, but that it has proven to be popular with the children and their families.
"The benefits of arts education is significant and can stand alone, but by adding the Christian influence -- teaching biblical standards -- we can make an impact that will ripple into eternity," she said.
There are roughly 120 students who participate in the Urban Stage program offered in Charleston, which is free to students and funded entirely through grants, Cantrell said. Students in the other studios are asked to pay monthly tuition on a need-based scale; the normal monthly rate is $60, and siblings of children already enrolled in the program receive an additional discount.