We are grateful for the special collective of Angel Donors who matched the first $25,000 raised through this event!
The Bisesto Family
Emily Grishman and Susan Sampliner
The Esposito Family
Jeffrey and Gheña Korn
Jim Jones and Joseph Langworth
Oda and Henry Sham
Thanks to the incredible generosity of everyone who contributed to the Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, ASTEP’s Arts Resilience Fund has raised $400,000 so far!
What has always made ASTEP unique is our ability to connect artists with community groups working in underserved communities. In this moment of crisis, our partners are serving youth who are navigating food scarcity, economic hardships and home safety, among a host of other issues. With these funds, ASTEP is immediately responding to the needs of these communities. In collaboration with the generosity of the Red Hook Container Terminal and the NYCEDC, ASTEP has helped to facilitate food donations to be delivered to our partner, Abraham House, in the South Bronx. The most recent donation of fresh fruit served over 900 families. There will be another generous food shipment reaching this community soon.
In this time of virtual learning, ASTEP is making sure the young people who have limited or no access to online platforms are not forgotten. We’re teaming up with teachers and schools to build English and Spanish arts packets that support social and emotional development and academic curriculum. We’re also reaching young people living with HIV/AIDS at the Incarnation Children’s Center, a pediatric residential facility, through virtual open mic nights to remind them that the ASTEP community loves and cares about them, even when we must remain physically distant. To build mindfulness and resilience, ASTEP is connecting artists around the world through live and prerecorded #artistathome series and professional development workshops. Now more than ever, ASTEP is using the arts to create a space for healing, a platform for connectivity and an outlet to express ourselves. Serving these communities has been ASTEP’s primary mission for 14 years, and thanks to the Arts Resilience Fund, ASTEP will continue to be here for the needs of our students and our extraordinary partners, as we all learn to adapt to this precarious new reality. To contribute today, please visit give.classy.org/ASTEP.
We are grateful for the special collective of Angel Donors who matched the first $25,000 raised through this event!
The Bisesto Family
Emily Grishman and Susan Sampliner
The Esposito Family
Jeffrey and Gheña Korn
Jim Jones and Joseph Langworth
Oda and Henry Sham
Additional star performances were announced today for the all-star special virtual concert in celebration of Stephen Sondheim’s 90th Birthday, “Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration“, this Sunday, April 26 at 8:00 PM ET. The free online event, hosted by Raúl Esparza, is set to take place on the exact 50th anniversary of the opening night of Sondheim’s musical Company (the original production debuted on Broadway on April 26, 1970). Watch it live on the Broadway.com YouTube Channel.
Esparza, the evening’s host and producer, starred as Bobby in the Tony Award-winning revival of Company in 2006 and in the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration productions of Sunday in the Park (George) and Merrily We Roll Along (Charlie) in 2002. He also headlined City Center’s Encores! productions of Anyone Can Whistle and last year’s Road Show.
“The world is in a hard place, and we are all searching for something great,” says Esparza. “Well, Stephen Sondheim is greatness personified. So, we’ve assembled a group of people who love Steve and have worked with Steve and have been inspired by Steve to sing his music and share some joy and some heartache together. We may be far from Broadway right now, but Broadway is never far from us. Besides, Stephen Sondheim turned 90. How many times do you get to be 90? 11? So come on, say it, get it over with, come on, quick…happy birthday.”
Directed by Paul Wontorek, Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration is being presented in support of ASTEP, the organization conceived by the event’s musical director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, and Juilliard students to transform the lives of youth using the most powerful tool they had: their art. In times of turbulence and trauma, the arts provide a space for healing, a platform for connectivity and an outlet to express ourselves. They’re also crucial to the development of mindfulness, an important element of mental health, especially in times of struggle. More than ever, ASTEP artists are needed to create that space for the most vulnerable among us. In this current moment of crisis, the youth we serve are navigating food scarcity, economic hardships and home safety, among a host of other issues. Serving them has been the primary mission of ASTEP for 14 years, and with your support, the organization will continue to be here for the needs of students and partners as we learn to adapt to this precarious new reality.
“Sondheim shows us the depth of our hearts, the complexity of our minds, and all that it is possible to accomplish through his brilliant marriage of music and storytelling,” Campbell adds. “Artists Striving to End Poverty aims to make sure that all children living in challenging situations have the opportunity to be transformed by the making of art. In my personal experience, encountering Stephen Sondheim’s music has helped these children imagine an entirely different life and future for themselves. Linking Sondheim and ASTEP together during this very difficult time made perfect sense to us. Children and art.”
During this unprecedented time, ASTEP is leaning into Adaptability – one of our four foundational pillars. We’re adding to our monthly Second Saturday Webinar Series by offering weekly, free professional development and networking opportunities for all of our trained and placed Volunteer Teaching Artists. These webinars focus on a variety of topics that best prepare Teaching Artists around the world to work with the young people ASTEP serves. Even cooler, we’ll have a variety of different presenters!
Please take a look below and let us know if you can join. Take good care of yourselves, and don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, ideas, or desire for communication!
Sign up for as many as you like. We will send out reading, watching, and listening materials in advance so you can be best prepared.
Friday, March 27th from 3:00-4:00pm EST: ASTEP Artist Meet Up with Monique Letamendi
Saturday, March 28th from 5:00-6:00pm EST: Stay Sane Saturday with Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Monday, March 30th from 3:00-4:30pm EST: Lesson Planning for One-Off Workshops with Tiffany Ramos
Friday, April 3rd from 12:00-1:30pm EST: Making the Most of Digital Platforms with Marcus Crawford Guy
Saturday, April 4th from 5:00-6:00pm EST: Stay Sane Saturday with Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Monday, April 6th from 3:00-4:30pm EST: Activities Without Age Limits with Will Thomason
Saturday, April 11th from 10:30am-12:00pm EST: Using Art to Create Courageous Spaces with Juanita Castro-Ochoa
Saturday, April 11th from 5:00-6:00pm EST: Stay Sane Saturday with Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Tuesday, April 14th from 5:00-6:30pm EST: Working at the Speed of Trust with Mauricio Salgado
Friday, April 17th from 12:00-1:30pm EST: Mindfulness and Self Care with Lizzy Santiago
Saturday, April 19th from 5:00-6:00pm EST: Stay Sane Saturday with Mary-Mitchell Campbell
These are trying times. It’s more important than ever that we’re here for one another. This crisis is hitting all of us in different ways, and may continue to do so for a while. There are many ways for us to support and be supported by each other as we move forward. Let’s figure out how best to serve each other and those around us.
*NOTE: This is not an official ASTEP program, but an effort among past and present ASTEPers to support our community.
What is Mutual Aid?
It’s showing up for each other. We all have needs. We also all have resources. Mutual aid is about finding ways for our collective resources to meet our collective needs. Right now we are all facing considerable challenges and may need help addressing them.
Do you need groceries dropped off?
Are you lonely/anxious/frustrated and need someone to talk to?
Are you worried about paying bills or rent?
Does your family need something right now?
If I know anything about this community, I know we’re also searching for ways to be of service during this time. It may feel as though there’s little we can do, but even the littlest things can make a difference.
Do you have the ability to safely run errands for others?
Can you offer an online class?
Would you like to share your art?
Could you extend financial assistance to someone who needs it?
We’ve kept it simple: let us know what you need and what you have to offer. Of course we can’t promise that needs will be met or that offers will be accepted, but let’s see what we can do. You’ll also see a question about your connection to ASTEP. This isn’t about authentication, just an effort to be relational and share how we’re connected.
Looking out for each other also means being safe and limiting our social contact. Things that involve even minimal contact (drop-offs, etc.) will need to be handled very carefully and in line with medical guidance to limit the possibility of transmission. We’ll have to get creative about how to hold each other up across distance. Good thing we’re creative people!
Other Resources For Mutual Aid
There are many localized mutual aid groups springing up in New York City and across the country. If you’re interested in how you can be there for your neighbors, check out these sites:
We are two good friends and long-time ASTEPers who have worked alongside each other (and many of you) for 15+ years. We’re excited to invite you into this effort because we believe in this community and in our collective capacity for compassion and creative problem solving.
My name is Mauricio Tafur Salgado (firstname.lastname@example.org) and in this moment I am divinely tormented +first gen born to proudly subversive Colombians with graduate degrees + brown skinned + aspiring bio-regionalist + cis-hetero + married + artist pursuing justice and healing through a decolonial framework. I come from the everglades watershed, my antepasados and a solid plate of my grandma’s arepas and buñuelos. I am one of ASTEP’s co-founders and I am grateful for all that I learned from and with our artists at Shanti Bhavan, Art-In-Action in Homestead, Teach for India, Ubuntu, Refilwe, IRC Refugee Youth Summer Academy, Young at Arts in Bronxville, The ICC in Washington Heights, The Artist as Citizen Conference and our College Chapters.
I’m Seth Numrich (email@example.com), an actor/theatre artist living in Brooklyn. I’ve organized and volunteered with ASTEP for Art-In-Action in Homestead, ICC in Washington Heights, Young at Arts in Bronxville and the Artist as Citizen Conference. he/him/his. This document is a work in progress and will continue to be refined as this effort develops. If you have questions, suggestions, or want to help us manage this doc, email: Astepersmutualaidnetwork@gmail.com
Need some game-spiration for your time inside? Look no further! We are happy to share some of our favorite activities from the ASTEP Games Guide, courtesy of our incredible Volunteer Teaching Artists! We will be adding to this list, so stay tuned for more on the ASTEP blog, as well as on our social media pages!
The activity begins with one person saying any random word.
Turn by turn every person says another word which is related to the previous one.
For example: if someone says red, the next person can say apple or blood etc. It is wise to give content parameters around this game so that it remains appropriate for all students. This game allows the students’ impulses to fly. It’s a great way to not overthink and just say the first thing that comes to your mind. Certain choices made by the student can help us understand their unconscious thoughts/likes/dislikes/fears.
∴Move the Hat Imagination, Creativity, Use of Space, Storytelling
Requirements: This activity is great for any age group and size.
Establish a “start” and “stop” line around 10 feet apart, or just enough room for them to work with!
Students Individually or in small groups are told there is an object in front of them on the floor, in this case: a hat. For the purposes of the exercise, it can be any manageable object that is around or even invisible/imaginary.
The student is then instructed that they are to move the hat from the start line to the stop line, but they have to move it according to the prompt the teacher gives. a. Some examples: it weighs 500lbs, it’s on fire, it smells very bad, etc. Anything the instructor can come up with! Optional addition: rather than announcing the prompt out loud, the teacher can tell only the active student the prompt and the students in the audience guess what it was! There is no “wrong answer” to this game, and it can be adapted in a variety of ways depending on the students’ needs.
∴Zombie: Silliness, Teamwork, Silliness Storytelling, Character work
Materials: 1 chair per student. Requirements: 4 players or more Similar to Musical Chairs
Everyone begins sitting in a chair. To start the game we need one volunteer. Place the volunteer some distance away from their chair in the room. (Remind kids to be safe!)
The zombie wants to sit in an empty chair and everyone else wants to prevent the zombie from getting to an empty chair. The only way to prevent the zombie from getting to an empty chair is to sit in the chair yourself, thus creating a new empty chair!
Once you get up, you MUST find a new chair. Zombies must move like a zombie (slow shuffle, low moaning etc), but all other players may move freely at whatever speed they wish.
If the zombie reaches and sits in a chair, he becomes human again. Anyone remaining standing becomes the new zombie. If there are multiple people standing, the last person standing must be the new zombie.
All new zombies MUST get down on the ground in body or spirit and pretend to come back to life.
Karina Sindicich, a Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing blog posts about her experiences teaching with ASTEP through our NYC program, ASTEP on STAGE!. This program give children access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.
There is no hiding the sheer JOY I feel every time I see my name signed up on the ASTEP program calendar! This fall was no exception, as I have been placed for the next few weeks in a program at a WIN site! YAY! ***Cue fireworks***
Walking toward the WIN site on my first placement back for the fall, I am excited and a little nervous, trying to sort out all the jumbly thoughts in my head. Do I have enough sharpened pencils? Is the speaker charged? What if we run out of paddle-pop sticks? All those wriggly thoughts that squirm their way inside your head and have a habit of putting you outside yourself and out of the moment.
However, there is no mistake that whenever the delightful ASTEP Volunteer Teaching artists and myself open the doors to the community room on site and see the students smiling faces and hear the shouts of glee as they exclaim “YAY, ASTEP!”, all those thoughts about getting things “right” just float away and a warm feeling of gratefulness washes over me, bringing me back to the present.
The next couple of hours go by like the blink of an eye and are filled with learning, sharing, laughing and dancing together! We all do some moving and grooving on our feet, creating our own unique choreographed dances with zumba, and after, make our way to our tables where we engage in some creative craft and make some fun art pieces for ourselves or those we love!
As we glue, tape, draw and color, gradually bringing our art to life, before we know it, it’s time to go! We sit down for our final goodbye and high five one another, thanking each other and our wonderful teachings artists for the sparkle they brought to our day!
As I walk home with an extra skip in my step, my soul is overflowing with gratitude for the day I’ve just gotten to be a part of. As always, the privilege of working for ASTEP puts so many happy thoughts careening through my head like, that was so much fun! Those young people are so super talented and open! Doesn’t art make everything feel so much brighter!? When I get home, I can’t wait to look at my calendar and scan down to the date next week when I get to do it ALL OVER AGAIN! I am one very lucky koala indeed.
ASTEP is thrilled to announce that Karina Sindicich has been selected as a recipient of the 2019-2020 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for her work with ASTEP on STAGE!
ASTEP on STAGE! connects Volunteer Teaching Artists with schools and community organizations to bring the transformative power of the arts to children and young people throughout NYC. In collaboration with our partner organizations, ASTEP on STAGE! brings the arts to youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS.
The Fellowship is a unique opportunity for individuals who closely model Jennifer’s values to use the arts as a vehicle to teach youth the social emotional skills they need to be the best versions of themselves. Karina is a professionally trained and working actress who can also pass the time by working as a clown (yep), children’s educator and physical theatre performer!
As a Program Facilitator for ASTEP on STAGE!, Karina will be serving at two locations: a transitional housing facility in Brooklyn for youth affected by homelessness, and at a community center in the South Bronx for youth whose families have been affected by the justice system. Thanks to her leadership, Karina ensures that our students are provided a safe, fun space where they can explore their voices and build their collaboration, problem solving, and communication skills using the performing and visual arts.
“What an INCREDIBLE, BEAUTIFUL, EXTRAORDINARY soul Jennifer must have been to shine SO BRIGHT and bestow that beautiful spark to others! I am beyond grateful and so inspired to be standing in the shadow of Jennifer’s legacy. It fills my heart and soul deeply to receive this fellowhip in her name. I love nothing more than sharing and teaching the arts to others and have dedicated my life to it. — Karina Sindicich, ASTEP Program Facilitator and 2019-2020 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow
Jasmeene Francois, a 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, shares this blog post about her experiences teaching through the ASTEP Arts at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 16 ASTEP Volunteer Teaching Artists are leading the creative arts classes at the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy, which supports the personal growth, cultural adjustment, and education of multicultural refugee youth and helps them successfully transition into the US school system. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.
Magical Play Dough
By: Jasmeene Francois, 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow
How time flies!!! It is almost time for graduation and students will be showing their newly gained storytelling skills they have worked on for the past 5 weeks. This is my first experience with RYSA and I co-teach Storytelling for Lower School with the awesome Aaron Rossini. Even though I have been teaching for a few years, I was nervous about the first day of RYSA. The information we gained during the training laid a strong foundation before we started, but would I remember everything? What if I forgot the lesson plan?
However, my teaching partner, ASTEP and IRC colleagues were always at the helm with support and encouragement.
The students brought so much energy and creativity to storytelling class every time. I was able to witness many students in Lower School 1, 2 and 3 come out of their shells. There was an activity that I did during my full time theatre teaching position called Magical Play Dough and I was able to introduce and implement it for the class warm-ups. There are multiple aims of this activity. It serves as a movement activity while firing up the engines of imagination. With the Lower School classes we created rockets ships to outer space and beyond, mystical (and real life) creatures, and cars and boats to take us to our dream destinations. Usually an activity I did with the youngest of my students, I loved the enthusiasm of the older students as they molded this imaginary piece of play dough into something they might use everyday.
As the last week of RYSA draws to a close, I am full of joy and gratitude for my students, teaching partner, and ASTEP and IRC team. Thank you to the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for the incredible opportunity to work with the wonderful and
creative students at RYSA.
Aaron Rossini, a 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, shares this blog post about his experiences teaching through the ASTEP Arts at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 16 ASTEP Volunteer Teaching Artists are leading the creative arts classes at the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy, which supports the personal growth, cultural adjustment, and education of multicultural refugee youth and helps them successfully transition into the US school system. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.
RYSA’s Final Week
By: Aaron Rossini, 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow
Heading into the final week of RYSA is, in all honesty, bittersweet. It’s sad to know that our time with the students is coming to an end, and it is inspiring to see how much they’ve grown in what seems like such a small amount of time. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and I am constantly wondering whether or not we could’ve done more. It’s a strange push and pull that teachers need to live inside; we need to meet the students where they are and hope to guide them a little past their comfort zones. We accomplished so much, and it feels like we can do so much more. There is always work to be done.
I want to share three moments that define this summer for me, and I hope can offer some insight into my experience to you:
“I want to be a better actor, so I can be a hero.” – Lower School 3
At the beginning of every class, we ask our students to set intentions or goals for the day. Miss Jasmeene or I might ask something like: “How do you want to grow today?” or “What do you want to achieve before the end of class today?”
On our third class, the Monday of our second week, we asked our students to shout out one goal they want to accomplish. This was met with a flurry of responses, some genuine, some goofy, and one in particular stood out to me. “Mr. Aaron, I want to learn to be a better actor, so I can be a hero,” said a girl in our Lower School 3 class. She went on to say that boys always get to be the superheroes, and she wanted to become a better actor, so she could be a superhero and save the world. To anyone wondering about the value of storytelling, this young woman offered us the case in point.
“Can I tell him in French, so he understands?” – Lower School 2
We often break the students up into smaller, more intimate groups to work on storytelling activities. On the Wednesday of week 3, we had the students break out into three groups of 5 or 6 to work on filling out some word sheets for their Mad-Libs.
Many of the students were super-charged-up at this chance to show off their vocabulary skills. Others were a little intimidated at the prospect of coming up with Verbs, Nouns, or Adjectives. One particular student, whose primary language is French, was very overwhelmed by the activity. When I engaged with him about the task, he shut down even more. This came as a surprise to me, since I had clocked him as able to understand most of my instructions in the previous classes. I looked up for some help, and there was one of his classmates and friends with a big smile on his face, “Mr. Aaron, can I tell him in French, so he understands? Then he will be able to do it in English.”
“Of course and thank you for the help!” Relieved and rescued by a 9-year-old, I saw this young man explain the entire activity– every last detail– in French, then translate it into English, patiently helping his classmate. I was so moved by this demonstration of empathy and patience, that I almost lost track of the fact that the first boy was now deeply engaged and enjoying the activity all thanks to his friend’s compassion and understanding.
“Mr. Aaron, you gotta make sure there isn’t a monster in there!” – Lower School 1
There’s a fun storytelling game called “Box on a Shelf” that involves a Silent pantomime where we pull a box off of a shelf, open it, and act out what’s inside. It can be an ice cream cone or a kitten or a rocket ship, anything the performer wants to make. Toward the end of class, the final day or Week 2, I performed a “Box on the Shelf” that had a monster in it. The monster chased me around the room, and I needed to solicit help from my fellow teachers to get it back in the box. Naturally, this was a huge hit, and all the students had tons of fun. Well, almost all of the students…
The following Monday, I started the day with another round of “Box on the Shelf”. As I reached up to pull a box off the shelf, one of the students screamed at the top of her lungs, “NO! MR. AARON THERE’S A MONSTER IN THERE!!!” I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at her, “Mr. Aaron, you gotta make sure there isn’t a monster in there!” What could I do? Well, I got the whole group to circle around the box and keep their eyes peeled and their monster-catching-hands ready. Fortunately, there wasn’t a monster in the box. This time there were popsicles, and we all had a treat!
This was my second time as a RYSA instructor, my first time as a Lead-Teacher, and my first time working exclusively with the Lower School students. I’m grateful for my time, my students, the IRC, ASTEP, my co-teachers, my peer mentors, my teammates, and for the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship. I hope this summer is a proper dedication to her memory, and I am honored to have shared in it.