Catherine Hancock, ASTEP volunteer, using music to promote social change

Hello ASTEP Family!

As an active ASTEP volunteer artist for a number of years, I’m writing to let you know about an exciting group that I am involved with called the Moirae Ensemble.

The Moirae Ensemble is a Chamber Music group that flutist Fiona Kelly, harpist, Caroline Cole and I founded while pursuing our Masters of Music at The Juilliard School.  The three of us discovered that we had similar ideals and beliefs in what we wanted to accomplish through our musical careers and as active members in our community.  Not only are we dedicated chamber musicians, we are also women who deeply care about supporting fellow women worldwide. We decided to start an ensemble that would embrace these two concepts by forming the Moirae Ensemble.

I was introduced to the International Rescue Committee through ASTEP and have worked with their domestic office in NYC for almost a year as an art teacher at PS199, and have been inspired by this amazing organization since I started my work with them and wanted to collaborate with the IRC on this project.  We are currently scheduling a concert series for the 2012/2013 season that will raise awareness for women’s issues and funds for the International Rescue Committee’s domestic office in NYC, with the long term goal of creating a fund for women refugees in NYC to receive counseling. In addition, we have commissioned several new works for this project including a donation from world renowned composer, Libby Larsen.  Please keep an eye out for our upcoming concerts and feel free to visit our website at

— Catherine Hancock | ASTEP Volunteer Artist



Launching the ASTEP Leadership Seminar. Get empowered!

ASTEP’s volunteer artists are the key to our success. We believe in cultivating a community of artists who use their gifts to inspire youth and in providing ongoing professional development opportunities for our volunteers. Starting this year, we’re excited to begin offering the ASTEP Leadership Seminar series for active ASTEP volunteers.  During the two-day intensives, we will explore the skills and strategies necessary to be an effective facilitator and leader when using the arts for social change. Focusing primarily on communication and organizational skills, the seminar will prepare individuals to be ASTEP On-Site Administrators, key leaders who help us manage the partner and volunteer experience. Most importantly, the seminar provides a space for like-minded artists to share their ideas about, experiences with, and challenges on leadership.

Our first ASTEP Leadership Seminar took place on March 1-2, 2012 in NYC. In attendance were 9 volunteer artists, ranging from dancers to actors to musicians to visual artists. We covered topics such as communication, conflict mediation, and evaluation—we were lucky to have a special presentation by Annika Sheaf, a Pilobolus dancer, who led the group through movement exercises that explored movement and how it relates to quick thinking, group productivity, awareness, trust, and communication.

Over the course of these two days, everyone involved not only grew closer as a volunteer community but also strengthened their leadership abilities and personal connection to this work.

Hear from several of the participants:


“Thank you so much for including me in the ASTEP Leadership Seminar. I really can’t tell you enough what a meaningful time I had. I feel so lucky to be a part of such an incredible community. I really look at ASTEP as a defining part of my life–the ideals of the organization and of the people within it are ones that I constantly push myself to strive for. And attending this seminar only made me believe this even more. I treasure my time spent with ASTEP and look forward to many, many, more years as part of the ASTEP family.”

–Alli Job, ASTEP volunteer | bassist and visual artist

What’s it like to Walk in Your Shoes?

In the summer of ’96, thirteen-year-old Max Depaula, an ASTEP Alum, was asked by one of his summer camp counselors what it was like to walk in his shoes. In response, Max took off his shoes and tossed them at the counselor. The counselor tossed the shoes back and said, “You know that’s not what I mean. What’s your story, Max?”

Although Max didn’t respond initially, he went home later that day and free-wrote a six-page narrative about his journey. When he finished, he was surprised to realize that sharing his story felt good and wondered, what will happen next in my story?

Over the span of four weeks this fall, the ASTEP student and volunteer community participated in the A Story per Step Campaign by responding to different prompts and questions, including: What’s it like to walk in my shoes?

We appreciate everyone who participated, and we invite you to watch the final video from Alejandro Rodriquez, an ASTEP Volunteer. It includes a compilation of the voices and stories shared by the ASTEP community.


• • • •

Below are several stories from volunteers and students who participated in the A Story Per Step Campaign. They were responding to certain questions and prompts, such as “When is the first time art rocked your life?” or “Tell us a super funny ASTEP story”. More stories and accompanying videos will be posted in the weeks to come!

The first time art rocked my life was, well, always. I do remember a specific moment, when I was about three, that I got a new pair of dress shoes. I remember they were very shiny, but more importantly that they made noise whenever I walked. I wore these new shoes to church one day, and the church had wooden planks on the floor. I’m not sure how I made my way there, but I ended up standing in the center row between the pews during the service, and I just tapped for all I was worth. I was so excited that my shoes made noise that I would not stop, and my aunt had to scoop me up and run out of the church with me under her arm. My mom always tells me that this was the day she realized she’d have to pay for me to take dance lessons so that I would stop ruining new shoes and church floors.   — Elisabeth Rainer, ASTEP Volunteer

When art rocked my world it was literally my first day of Art in Action 2006. I remember like if it was yesterday. I was put in a group with four other students and a facilitator (Johnny). Our group had to come up with a group name and a dance (mind you, as a child I loved coming up with my own songs and dances), but the song and dance my group came up with was a silly one: we named our group “tiki bananas” inspired by the “Traketeo” and the bananas sitting on the Traketeo. Our dance was a mixture of air guitar (Manny’s idea) and monkey arms…LOL. At first I thought it was all wrong and that we would be made fun of when we shared it with the camp. Turned out I was wrong. Everyone loved it, and I then realized we made art.  — Erica Morillo, ASTEP Art-in-Action student

It was 8 pm, and we had dancing class. Allie and Ashley were teaching us. We started our class with practicing and getting funky. We were going to dance to “Thriller.” Babu, the eldest member of the class, was just too excited to dance. He thought to himself that he could become the next M.J. He had high hopes that he would master this dance. We started learning the dance. Babu was in the first row. Allie and Ashley lifted one leg straight up in the air and told us to do it. Babu forgot that his pants were too tight for him and were made of very thin material. He lifted his leg as high as he could. Suddenly something tore! Everyone looked down to see Babu’s pant torn, and Babu lying flat on the ground groaning in pain! For the rest of that class, Babu had to sit and look at everyone else dancing, and we could see the sadness on Babu’s face.  — Vijay Kumar, ASTEP student at Shanti Bhavan, 10th grade 

Dance vs. PowerPoint?

A Response to the TEDx Talks from John Bohannon Dance vs. PowerPoint at the TEDx Conference in Brussels’

By: Lucie Baker

In this brief speech about the perils of PowerPoint and the advantages of dance as a form of communication John Bohannon brings up a number of important questions about the way we share information and the role of art within contemporary culture. Two of the most compelling thoughts for me are: Does art have a purpose? and how can I most effectively make someone understand an idea?

I personally believe that art must have no function other than to be art;  a distinction that separates art from design. For example, a beautifully crafted fork is still a fork, not a sculpture. That being said, I also believe that art is a method of communication that is more holistic and intuitive than language. I have understood nuances of rage and tranquility by looking at a Mark Rothko painting that I could never articulate in language or PowerPoint. I agree that PowerPoint is a misused and ineffective tool for communication. However, I feel somewhat belittled by relegating dance to explaining scientific research. It is so much more. I am excited by the prospect of combining disciplines and sharing knowledge between the artistic and scientific communities. Dance is one of the most complicated ways that the human body interacts with the laws of physics which would make it a uniquely articulate way to explore new ideas about physics. However, it communicates a wide range of emotions and experiences as well.

All that aside, I often find that people are woefully habitual when it comes to their methods of communication. People think in many different ways. Why not use all of our senses to convey what we mean? Visual, audio, texture, taste, smell. I often find myself singing a story to a friend or my gestures turning into more of a dance when I am really getting into a good point. I am not interested in turning dance into a tool for rhetoric but I am interested in new ways of connecting to one another and sharing the knowledge of the world.

So move over PowerPoint. Let the dancers take the stage and teach us about super fluids.

A volunteer transforms messages of personal identity

Take a look at how Michael Markham, an ASTEP volunteer, transformed the side of a building in New York City into a piece of artistic work.

Michael, an actor with a passion for photography, collaborated with Inside Out, a global art project that posts large scale photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world.

A beautiful visual presentation!


Volunteers who share their (he)art. We honor you

We could not make an impact on the lives of the children we serve without the continued dedication of our amazing team of volunteers. From curriculum planning to running the workshops, our volunteers provide nonstop energy and love–their work is both an inspiration and a testament to the transforming power of the arts. From the depths of our hearts, we THANK YOU!

Refugee Youth Summer Academy | NYC

  • Keith Chappelle
  • Jasmine Collins
  • Nick Dalton
  • John Egan
  • Caroline Fermin
  • Catherine Hancock
  • Tiffany Jin
  • Allison Job
  • Julia Boudreaux Mayo
  • Dylan Moore
  • Amanda Toth
  • Hayley Treider
  • Alejandro Rodriguez, On-site Administrator

Art-in-Action Middle School | Homestead Florida

  • Robert Avila
  • Stephanie Borrero
  • Andrey Cassasola
  • Melissa Crepo
  • Laura Lalanne
  • Laura Mead
  • John Pimentel
  • Alex Samaras
  • Maggie Segale
  • Julia Steifel
  • Jamario Stills
  • Katherine Wood

Art-in-Action High School | Homestead Florida

  • Chelsea Ainsworth
  • Damian Gomez
  • Alisa Howard
  • Meera Kumbhani
  • Nadia Kyne
  • Kyle Netzeband
  • Charles Numrich
  • Briana Paige
  • Will Pailen
  • Curtis Peterson
  • Elisabeth Rainer
  • Kendal Sparks
  • Jim Stephens

Incarnation Children’s Center | NYC

  • Lucie Baker
  • Ali Dachis
  • Dion Mucciacito
  • Seth Numrich
  • Tanesha Ross
  • Cindy Salgado
  • Samira Wiley

Shanti Bhavan | India

  • Lauren Berger
  • Elise Seivert
  • Lillian Sposts
  • Rahil Tejani

A special volunteer. A special THANK YOU

At the end of June, Seth Numrich and I hosted a 2-day event at the Incarnation Children’s Center in order to re-energize and commit students to the summer ASTEP program. This summer marked the third year ASTEP worked with  the ICC, a pediatric facility for adolescents living with HIV/AIDS , and the first time under Seth’s leadership. Although Seth led the South Florida volunteer team in 2009 as an ASTEP On-Site Administrator, this summer has proved particularly challenging for him. Not only will he be recruiting volunteers, teaching classes, and overseeing curriculum development for the ICC program, but he will be doing all of this while starring in the critically acclaimed “Warhorse” currently running at Lincoln Center.

Seth first volunteered with ASTEP in the summer of 2006 as a visual artist for our Art-In-Action program in South Florida. Seth doesn’t have a background in visual art—in fact, he claims to struggle with drawing stick figures. But his belief in the power of art and his passion for social justice lifted him above his insecurities. After an overwhelming summer, he returned in 2007 to try his hand at teaching theatre and raise his level of output and creativity. Even upon graduating from Juilliard in 2008 and beginning his career as an actor, he continued to commit to ASTEP’s programming by participating in two more Art-in-Action summer programs.  In 2009 Seth led the volunteer team.

Given his investment in our work, it would not surprise you that I lean on him quite often, which is why I called him quite confidently one evening in April after a challenging staff meeting. We had come to a decision that unless we found a volunteer to carry the ICC program in August, we would have to cancel it.

“Brother, I’m sorry for calling so late.”

“No worries, whats up?”

“Things are extra busy this season in the office and it doesn’t seem like Abby and I are going to be able to do the necessary prep for the ICC program this summer. Would you be game to recruit and prep your own team?”

“Sure. I can take that on. I’ve already got some ideas…”

Several weeks later, we found ourselves wearing eccentric costumes and exuberantly hosting an Arts Olympics Event with the ICC community. Although he was running in from Warhorse matinees and leaving early to prepare for his night shows, he was a joy to watch and collaborate with. It is his ability in the classroom that makes him such a valuable volunteer. The students and fellow volunteers appreciate everything he brings to the classroom.

I recently had a conversation with Charles Numrich, Seth’s dad, about his experience with one of our programs this past summer—Seth has recruited both of his parents to volunteer for us along with many other friends. As we wrapped up, the discussion turned to Seth.

“Have you seen him recently? How is his work going at the ICC?”

“He’s doing great as usual, and we are very thankful to have him in charge of that, although we don’t understand how he juggles both his show and this work.”

“Yeah, I worry about that as well. But you know what, he’s young and he can handle it. Tell him to call his Dad when he gets a chance?”


It’s his youthful energy and so much more that make him special. From all of us in the ASTEP community, we thank him for being an example for what it means to serve others. And as his friend, I hope I can find ways to serve him as well.

– Mauricio Salgado, ASTEP Director of Domestic Programs


“In order to create art, community, a classroom, or anything else, you need a situation that is saturated with love and support beyond question. That is what ASTEP has to offer.”

– Seth Numrich; ASTEP Volunteer

ASTEP delivers art programs designed to demonstrate the power of the arts to inspire youth and strengthen communities


It was about fifteen minutes before our final performance, and all of the teachers were standing in front of 57 excited, nervous teenagers, trying to give them some last minute words of wisdom and express to them, if we could, just how proud of them we were. As the last teacher to talk, I had each of the students give themselves a hug and take a deep breath, explaining to them that being nervous before a show is a good thing. As soon as I finished talking, one of the students caught my eye.

This boy was the kind of teenager you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find at an arts summer camp. During the first half of camp, he had been very “cool”, and we had a hard time getting him to participate fully. Only during the last few days had he begun to open up a fraction. This young man caught my eye and held up his hands, clasped in a yoga mudra (hand gesture) that I had taught a week or so earlier during a relaxation elective. It was in that moment that it hit me: these students were taking everything in. The moments of silly dance parties in the hallways, the songs, rhymes, dances, drama exercises; the students weren’t missing a beat. Even those that seemed distant were absorbing everything like sponges. Though I loved just about every second of my volunteer experience, this was the instant when I realized how important the work was, and how much these students were teaching me about taking risks, opening up, and having courage.

– Elisabeth Rainer, AIA 2011 Volunteer

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