A new after-school program begins this school year at J.D. Floyd Elementary School that I think deserves some special recognition.
It's a performing arts program as music therapy for children who can't afford private lessons. That's great in itself but what raises it to extraordinary is that the two people behind it are a brother and sister, 19 and 14 years old, who are gifted performers themselves. They have formed their own charity fund, raised $20,000 through their own concerts, and given funds to St. Jude's Children's Hospital, a summer camp for abused children called "Blooming Place for Kids" and now their own after-school program called "Journey Into the Performing Arts."
Shawn and Jessica Doolittle have received the support of the Hernando County School Board, J.D. Floyd's principal and band director, and the Hernando County Fine Arts Council.
Shawn Doolittle recently told the fine arts council's members that the program will accommodate 60 to 100 students at first from kindergarten through eighth grade. High school students will be recruited to help him and his sister with the lessons for children in groups of five to 10 each. As the program progresses, they hope graduates of the program will come back to teach younger children coming in. Parents of the children benefiting from the program will be encouraged to volunteer hours.
In addition, they have the services of Serena Young, who owns and operates a local dance studio, to give dance lessons and act as director of the apprentice program. High school students participating as apprentices will be paid a small stipend, Young said.
The program will have two showcase performances each year as benefits for other children.
"In doing this," Shawn Doolittle told the board, "we feel each child will realize how valuable and extraordinary they are.
"Scientific evidence has proven that children's education in the arts helps to increase students' scores in math and science. It encourages self-discipline and diligence: traits that carry over into intellectual pursuits, which then lead to effective student and work habits," he said.
Helping these two bright young people are their proud parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Doolittle of Spring Hill. Their father stressed the importance of teaching children how they can take an active role in helping themselves and thereby helping others without waiting for someone else to do it for them. Their mother explained the organization's efforts to get corporate sponsorships.
County Commissioner Rose Rocco, liaison to the council, said she was impressed by the talent of the Doolittle children and pledged help to find sponsorships for the Kids Helping Kids project.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Kids Helping Kids program may go to www.sjdccf.com.
All of this began, Shawn Doolittle said, in November 2004 when he and his sister sang at a fundraiser for a 15-month-old boy, Tucker Brown, who was diagnosed with brain cancer and had already undergone surgery.
"After seeing how innocently happy Tucker was and seeing how he carried himself with no signs of pain or suffering, we realized how fortunate my sister and I were and how much we took our health and blessings for granted," he said. So, with the help of their parents, they formed a foundation so they could use their talents to help other children.
"I want them to know," Shawn Doolittle said about the children who will be attending the after-school program, "that no matter how many obstacles seem to be in the way of their goals, they can achieve anything and everything they want in life."
So what are you doing with your spare time? Think it's just too hard to form your own nonprofit organization to help others learn how to improve themselves? It doesn't have to be singing or dancing. It could be math. It could be building a computer. It could be planting a vegetable garden.
It would, however, take a lot of time away from sitting in front of the television. Would it be worth it?
Shawn and Jessica think so.
Jerry Cowling, a freelance writer living in Brooksville, is a member of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council board.