All children love to make wishes. One wish shared by many to find a place that recognizes their potential and welcomes them just as they are. Rainey Institute is a Cleveland non-profit where such a wish can come true.
In the 1990s, Darnell Weaver’s primary caregiver, his grandmother, bartered with Rainey Institute’s Executive Director, Zandra Richardson, offering to teach art classes in exchange for Darnell and his young aunts being permitted to attend Rainey.
Rainey welcomed the enthusiastic 5-year-old to its classes in dance, music, drama and visual arts inside its old 1904 building – once a settlement house for Slavic families in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.
“For me, art wasn’t recreation – it was a place I belonged,” recalls Weaver. “I could leave my fears gathered up from the day and just be myself. I was part of a separate world, one that was safe and encouraging.”
A social worker by profession, Zandra Richardson was also passionate about music and shared that passion with Darnell. She invited the boy to build his sense of timing on drums and piano. Caring instructors encouraged him, as well as his friends Dontiez Hall and Titus Golden, to move across the floor through dance, to build stage presence through drama, to blend in choir, and to play violin and other instruments through music classes and private lessons.
As Weaver grew, he began teaching private lessons to other young people. He explored leading programs through Teens in Training. He won a spot in the prestigious Cleveland School for the Performing Arts with his viola audition, graduated from high school and attended Bowling Green University, pursuing a chemistry major and a dance minor. Then, Rainey invited him back to teach Dance, thus giving Weaver the opportunity to help other children expand creatively. He would go on to design and implement the Institute’s Dance Mastery Program.
Meanwhile, an exciting growth spurt was also taking place at the Institute. Richardson and Rainey’s board of trustees, together with long-time trustee Theodore Horvath, developed a long-term plan to build a new facility to assist even more youth throughout Greater Cleveland in exploring visual and performing arts.
Under the direction of Executive Director Lee Lazar, the Alexander McAfee Community Arts Building was built in 2011, providing a safe and enriching arts space for youth. The professionally-equipped Debra Ann November theater in Rainey Institute seats 175. Also in 2011, a violinist with the Cleveland Orchestra, Isabel Trautwein, helped Rainey establish an El Sistema string orchestra program at the new building. El Sistema, a model from Venezuela, promotes peaceful social change through music.
Today, Rainey Institute serves over 2,500 students under the experienced leadership of Executive Director Jennifer Harris, helping children thrive artistically in a variety of ways. Rainey After School programs run from 2:30 pm to 6:00 pm, facilitated by caring instructors. Classes are also offered in the evenings and on Saturdays, as well as during the summer at Summer Camp.
- In the Arts Enrichment After School program, students choose to study musical theater or visual arts the first semester, then switch for the second semester. Children work throughout the school year to showcase their visual art and performance skills at Rainey’s annual Art Exhibition.
- El Sistema@Rainey provides mastery-based orchestral instruction to students in grades 2-8, making music fun while inspiring focus and teamwork. Children study violin, viola, cello, or double bass through daily orchestra classes. Instruments are provided. Students perform monthly concerts for friends, family, and the community.
- Students in the Dance Mastery program rotate through Ballet, Modern, and Hip-Hop dance forms throughout the week and receive individualized instruction from Rainey Institute Teaching Artists and GroundWorks Dance Theater
- Kindergarten and 1st-grade students in the Young Explorer program have the opportunity to sample a variety of visual and performing arts.
According to one interview with Dr. Harris, off-campus Rainey programs are now available at Chambers Elementary in East Cleveland, Laura’s Home, a City Mission site, the Breakthrough Schools’ Willard site, Family Promise, Cleveland rec centers, and Cleveland public libraries.
Education research shows that engagement in the arts can increase test scores, graduation rates, and the ability to focus. Such engagement can also foster a child’s social and emotional growth.
As Darnell Weaver departs Rainey Institute, preparing for a new direction in his teaching career, he appreciates Rainey for something more. Rainey Institute provided “another world” for him – the “oasis” he needed to thrive as a child and young adult.
“I am one of thousands of children who grew up nurtured by the arts and the caring adults at Rainey Institute,” says Weaver. “Rainey truly has changed our lives.”