Performing arts program for at-risk kids fears funding cut

By Bailey Myers, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, December 19, 2016, 6:08 PM EST

A Florida after-school program designed to help at-risk kids is itself at risk of shutting down.

  • Prodigy program uses arts to help at-risk youth
  • Program operates in Orlando, Tampa areas
  • Prodigy is seen as a national model, organizers say

For more than 16 years, the cultural arts program Prodigy, which operates in both the Central Florida and Tampa Bay areas, has depended on state funding. It uses visual and performing arts to reach youth, or young people who have been diverted from the juvenile justice system.

Using comprehensive listening skills, Prodigy mentors visit communities such as the Parramore neighborhood of Orlando, where they say students are at risk of being exposed to violence and crime.

Jan Cruz has been attending Prodigy classes twice a week for two years and said he's now a different person.

"You feel like family. If you say you go to Prodigy then that makes you happy, because some teachers are funny."

The once shy kid is now a class leader, something his mother said she never expected before.

"Now, his mind is open for the knowledge," Grissette Cruz said.

That's the goal for the Prodigy project, which helps more than 500 kids in Orange and Osceola counties. Prodigy is one of the best performing diversion programs and is seen as a national model, according to the program's organizers.

"They are learning constructive skill-building that will help them navigate through arguments and violence they may see in their community," Prodigy Director Mike Trepper said.

But this year, their $4.6 million annual budget, spread over 40 operating centers throughout Florida, isn't on the priority list for Florida legislators.

If Prodigy is not made a line item on the state's budget, then it would have to look at minimizing programs.

"If our funding doesn't continue, then that means that our programs, and our classrooms... will have to close or be eliminated," Trepper said.

Prodigy’s director said it may only have three months to stay afloat if it loses funding.

For more information about Prodigy, visit their website: www.uacdc.org/index.php/prodigy-sites