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Summer camp, Maryland Hall join forces for arts programs aimed at Annapolis youth

The campers formed two single-file lines and practiced a hip-hop dance exercise — kick-step-step, kick-step-step — from one side of the classroom to the other as pulsating beats reverberated off the walls.

The dance lesson at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis came free of charge. The youngsters visit the hall each week during their time at a camp run by We Care and Friends, a nonprofit that offers support and resources for families in need.

Maryland Hall officials have had a long-standing relationship with We Care and Friends founder Larry Griffin, who has had his campers stop by each week for an indoor, climate-controlled lunch. Administrators at Maryland Hall figured it would be an ideal opportunity to introduce the center's arts programs to students who otherwise might not be able to afford them.

The camp "needed a few places locally in Annapolis to give the kids a bit of rest and food, and we though it would be a great opportunity to give them exposure to creative expression," said Emily Garvin, Maryland Hall director of programs.

The result is classes in arts, dance and music that last up to an hour, part of Maryland Hall's ArtReach program, an effort that aims to offer resources to the area's underserved population. The hall generally partners with agencies such as We Care and Friends, the Annapolis Gardens Boys and Girls Clubs and Eastport Girls Clubs to provide services to youngsters.

Griffin, 64, an Annapolis resident who launched We Care and Friends in 1990 after recovering from drug addiction and homelessness, said the ArtReach efforts are key to helping youngsters from families with scant funds for summer activities.

"Most of the kids have parents that are struggling, and down here, the prices of going to camp … if you've got three kids, you can't pay $225 for each of them," Griffin said.

Maryland Hall officials say ArtReach has also been ideal for area artists interested in sharing their craft with youngsters. For instance, this past week Baltimore-based dance instructor Kamaria Boyd came to teach hip-hop moves to We Care and Friends campers.

The programs, Garvin said, are designed to promote self-expression and foster skill development.

"ArtReach is an umbrella program for any partnership that serves underserved populations of children facing adversity," said Garvin. "Artists, musicians and dancers spend 45 minutes to an hour with the campers, showing what inspires them and trying to draw that out from the hearts of the We Care and Friends participants."

Some campers readily embraced the dance instruction. Others, such as Xavier Shirley, 11, of Arnold — who is more passionate about math and technology classes — weren't quite as enthusiastic. Still, Xavier saw the merit of taking the class.

"I will probably help me socially. I will probably be able to learn a lot of things, and I can tell people about what I've learned," Xavier said.

In addition to the Maryland Hall class, students in the We Care and Friends camp have gone on a trip to the Apollo Theater in New York and the International Spy Museum in Washington.

"We do stuff I've never seen before," said Jayla Walker, 11, of Annapolis. "This whole camp is like friends and family."

Griffin watched the campers from a corner of the room during the dance class. "Last time, they tried to get me out there," he said, laughing.

He has become a fixture among Annapolis' neediest residents. His organization offers substance-abuse treatment programs, resources for the homeless and free lunches from its offices at the Stanton Community Center in Annapolis. We Care and Friends also stages a holiday toy drive and back-to-school clothing drives.

In 2005, Griffin founded the School on Water, offering swimming lessons to Anne Arundel County youth. The 35 campers in his summer program take part in activities year-round. Some, he said, are being raised by grandparents.

"Larry's been involved with Maryland Hall off and on for a couple of decades," Garvin said. "He's just a remarkable advocate for young people."

Griffin said he hopes the camp's activities help the campers envision worlds beyond their current environments.

"We're trying to get these kids to understand they can do something with their lives, instead of going to the other side of the fence and getting into trouble," he said.

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