The children went from the street to the stage.
When Lim Forgey noticed children playing in the dumpster outside of Christ Lutheran Church, Visalia, Calif., where he works as music minister, it stirred memories of his own difficult childhood. One of the children wasn’t even wearing shoes.
Worried about their well-being, Forgey thought the children “needed something to connect them with Christ.” That something, he imagined, could be the arts—music, theater and dance—that he had grown to love.
The moment inspired him to work with the congregation to create the Christ Lutheran Institute for the Performing Arts, known as CLIPArts. The after-school program for neighborhood children from low-income households offers instruction in singing, theater and dance. The classes are free to qualifying families.
“In a time when performing arts gets cut from tightening school budgets, we are able to provide a quality program that benefits kids who would not otherwise experience it,” said Brian Malison, pastor.
“This is not a program about singing, dancing and acting … we are investing in their lives.”
On Mondays and Tuesdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Christ welcomes 50 to 60 children, ages 7 to 13, for CLIPArts. They receive instruction from five paid professional staff members with experience in musical theater and from volunteers. Funding for the program comes from the congregation’s budget, grants and donations from outside organizations or individuals.
At the end of each semester, CLIPArts children perform a musical in a rented high school auditorium. Past performances have included Aladdin, The Aristocats and, most recently, The Lion King, drawing an audience of 300. Now in its eighth year, CLIPArts’ next show will be Mary Poppins Jr.
Forgey manages the program, receiving support from seven board members, including its president, Pamela Merkel. Recently the program’s mission has shifted to “show the love of Jesus Christ to low-income and at-risk children through a no-cost after-school performing arts program,” she said. That love is apparent in the way staff is fully present with participants, Merkel added.
Although the children CLIPArts serves face emotional and economic challenges, Forgey said he has witnessed how performing arts have been transformational for them. “This is not a program about singing, dancing and acting … we are investing in their lives,” he said.
Program staff focuses on each child and family individually. They are embraced and “infused in the church,” Forgery noted.
CLIPArts has been transformational for Forgey as well—it has helped him cope with his past and relate better to the children.
The program has shaped the congregation’s relationship with its neighbors too. “We are truly reaching out to the community beyond Christ Lutheran in order to build relationships, be good neighbors, and offer something of personal and spiritual value,” Malison said.