August 2018 the Unified Outreach Youth Arts Program will celebrate 10 years of providing unique arts programming in West Seattle.
The charity is known for its annual youth fashion show and runway extravaganza, free to the public and organized by middle and high school students as part of a work-readiness-in-the-arts program that has partnered Unified Outreach with a number of other organizations in the past including the Office of Arts & Culture, 4Culture, SYVPI, and SW Youth & Family Services in order to provide work training, educational tracks, and networking opportunities to at-risk, underserved, and special needs communities.
In previous years Unified Outreach has been recognized for its focus on empowering young women from underserved communities as seen here: https://kingcountynews.org/2017/06/13/young-women-find-empowerment-through-arts-in-west-seattle-2/
Unified Outreach has also been a leader in efforts to stop youth violence and in providing opportunities to special needs youth, which we will talk about later in the article.
Founded in 1998 the program began with a small group of volunteers providing free art classes to kids at transitional housing shelters throughout Seattle, with no official center of operations (other than a PO Box) until the program found a home in West Seattle’s Ginomai art center in 2008. Ginomai means “to create” in Greek, and was the vision of Pastor Dan Jacobs, of the West Seattle Christian Church. Upon the closing of the West Seattle Christian Pre-School in 2007 Pastor Dan’s idea was to provide artists with an affordable space to create art and host small community meet-ups.
In 2014 Unified Outreach provided nearly $40K in renovations to the building, including removing massive amounts of asbestos from the old school building, as well as providing new paint, carpet, lighting, carpentry work, and bathroom renovations. As part of the renovations Unified Outreach also constructed a new sounds booth for use with both music recording and cartoon animation voice-overs, for use in the video production and cartooning studios.
WHAT SORT OF ARTS PROGRAMS DOES UNIFIED OUTREACH OFFER?
Unified Outreach is one of the most eclectic arts programs in the NW, and in previous years has offered both traditional and contemporary programs including drawing, painting, theater, fashion & runway, video production, cartoon animation, hip hop art, breakdancing, comic book design, short-story publishing, and more! Summer day-camp offerings have included cartooning camp, crafting camp, and sports & athletics camp.
In 2011 Unified Outreach hosted the 30 year “Breakers Reunion”, which brought together 3 generations of Seattle B-Boy’s/B-Girl’s in a multi-generational event that took many through a time-warp and back to the early 80’s, to celebrate all the iconic Breakdance Crews, seminal Graffiti Artists, legendary Dj’s, a platinum selling Rapper, and great memories of days gone by. https://kingcountynews.org/2012/08/05/4-generations-of-b-boys-come-out-to-celebrate-30-years-of-hip-hop-culture-at-the-seattle-city-breakers-reunion/
Fashion & Runway
As previously mentioned, the program is best known its annual youth fashion expose, which will be held on August 11th at 6pm at 4400 42nd Ave SW, complete with a free dinner buffet. You can enjoy a clip from one of the previous shows at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmlekISzOPI
Violence Prevention Initiative
In 2013 Unified Outreach leadership joined with pastors and community leaders in Rainier Valley to combat the rise in youth-on-youth violence, submitting a proposal to the Mayor’s Office aimed at building community programs that strengthen police and community dialogue, provide mentoring services for youth, and give community leaders a support in taking a hands-on role in engaging the issue. Additionally, Unified Outreach has employed the work-readiness-arts program as a means of reaching at-risk and gang affiliated youth, using the arts to break down cultural and economic barriers, build positive self-esteem, and provide mentors, career opportunities, and networking resources.
Special Needs Partnerships
If you ask the Unified Outreach founder Edward Dumas how Unified Outreach got its start, he will tell you that it all started with Alice.
Alice Conover (formerly Toledo) is the mother of Unified Outreach Co-Founder David Toledo. Edward tells us that Alice started a food-bank from the steps of her own home back in the mid 1980’s, while he and David were attending high school together . “The Helpers” was one of the first neighborhood food banks in Seattle, and Alice worked around the clock to build relationships with local grocers; securing quality food that would have been thrown out due to expiration date and delivering it to elderly, disabled, and low income neighbors. Putting in long hours, paying for her own gas, helping her neighbors with food, money for bills, a place to stay if needed, and a friendly ear – Alice taught her children the value of service.
According to Edward, David has shared two great memories from growing up in the home. One is that his mother opened her doors to the community, with the food bank but also to anyone in need of temporary shelter. She often hosted families referred by the church, including refugee families from Ethiopia and Vietnam. The other great memory is of his mother spending hours sitting on the front stairs talking with Paul Anton, a young man who was born with cerebral palsy that had limited his speech and upper body motor skills. However, this did not prevent Paul from graduating from Blanchet High School, nor prevent him from fully engaging in great conversation with the use of his feet to spell out words and make sentences on the sidewalk, or if needed, with a pencil held between his toes.
Alice taught her kids and their friends that everyone has gifts, and everyone can shine if given the opportunity. Fast forward to 2018 and you’ll see the reflection of Paul Anton in the work that Unified Outreach does, such as the staff and student hosted panel at the Emerald City Comic Con, featuring Clayton Bragg. Clayton was also born with Cerebral Palsy, and like Paul Anton he would not let his disability hold him back. Clayton is an aspiring rapper who has also lent his voice to one of the characters in the “Meet the Mascots” cartoon produced at the Unified Outreach center.
You can find out more about Clayton and Meet the Mascots here: https://kingcountynews.org/2018/03/07/west-seattle-arts-program-gets-animated-at-emerald-city-comic-con/
You can find out more about Paul Anton and Alice here: https://kingcountynews.org/2018/06/25/celebrating-paul-anton-alice-toledo/
Meet the Team!
Another thing that makes Unified Outreach unique and worth celebrating is the long-time volunteer staff who have almost single-handedly funded the program for the last 20 years. The grassroots charity still raises most of the program funding itself, with most coming directly from the volunteer instructors and staff, many who have been with the program over 10 years. But that’s okay say’s Director of Operations April King who does programming, community outreach, curriculum design, admin duties, and in-class instruction. Oh, and did we mention that she’s also a Cordon Blue trained chef who makes sure that every Fashion Show is complete with a mouth watering buffet? “We’ve been doing this for so long it’s second nature,” she says. “Every child that comes through the program becomes one of the family. They are all my kids. In the end, it’s all worth it.”
We proudly join Unified Outreach in celebrating 10 years in West Seattle! We hope to see you all at the August 11th Fashion & Runway Expose’!