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Detroit arts organization among those to be highlighted during SDOP Sunday on March 13

Creative Arts Spirit of Excellence helps youth and young adults connect and succeed in the arts

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

Creative Arts Spirit of Excellence (CASOE) in Detroit is among the organizations that will be featured during SDOP Sunday on March 13. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Creative Arts Spirit of Excellence (CASOE), one of the organizations to be featured March 13 as part of SDOP Sunday, provides arts programming (theatre, dance, music, and media arts) that helps youth and young adults from ages 2-21 connect and succeed artistically.

Founded in 2004, CASOE was created to provide meaningful arts and cultural opportunity in the underserved Detroit communities where many youth face severe socio-economic challenges and have limited access to the arts.

For the past 17 years, CASOE has produced live stage performances featuring hundreds of young people and their families. According to Janice Smith, founder and chief executive officer, CASOE’s most impactful projects have been the live stage performances addressing key social issues that offer the audience a chance to reflect upon important social justice themes presented in an entertaining and thought-provoking message.

Based in Detroit, which has the highest rate of children living in poverty — a staggering 72% — CASOE engages a wide range of local actors, dancers, musicians, stage crew, set designers and other artists to produce their performances.

“CASOE’s long-term impact can be measured by individual CASOE members who work with us for years and go on to successful careers in the entertainment industry,” said Smith. “These young people attribute their success to the solid foundation that was built working with us.”

Despite the high rate of children living in poverty in Detroit, Smith adds there is enormous potential for growth among the city’s pool of young talent. And like many organizations over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic posed severe challenges and obstacles for the organization as it was forced to suspend live performances, resulting in a 42% reduction in annual revenue. A transition to a virtual arts platform means that more young people could engage in the arts. The platform is also a critical outlet for families with children out of school. CASOE virtual programming became an educational, artistic, and recreational resource for many.

Working with SDOP

CASOE has received funding from numerous sources, but the SDOP grant received initially from the Presbytery of Detroit SDOP committee then later from the national SDOP office is unique in several ways, including:

  • the investment in members rising out of poverty
  • the ability to sustain the partnership for longer than a year
  • the grant put CASOE in a position to apply for other national grants.

“SDOP’s investment in our members rising out of poverty was the first grant we received that addressed this critical issue,” said Smith. “Many of our members worked long hours for little or no pay. SDOP’s funding made a significant difference in their lives. And the ability to sustain our partnership has been amazing; we are in frequent communication with SDOP, which is a positive experience for us.”

A CASOE supporter originally recommended the group contact SDOP, and after reviewing SDOP’s grant information guidelines on the website decided their goals and objectives aligned with SDOP’s mission. According to Smith, the grant process at both levels was made easier because of the regular communication throughout the application process.

“We relied heavily on the committee’s explanation of the guidelines, which helped to ensure we submitted an application that gave evaluators a clear and concise picture of our work,” Smith said.

CASOE continue to be in relationship with SDOP, providing updates on how its funding benefits the group through member testimonials, pictures, social media posts and public meetings with stakeholders.

“SDOP’s assistance has been invaluable in helping CASOE accomplish some of its goals,” said Smith. “We can offer more initiatives for at-risk youth in poverty and increase our members’ income with a consistent bi-weekly paycheck.”

This story is part of the SDOP Sunday Resource, an annual guide to the work of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People. It is published in advance of the celebration of SDOP Sunday, which will be celebrated in Presbyterian churches across the United States on March 13. Click here to learn more about SDOP and SDOP Sunday. Click here to watch the episode of Join the Movement dedicated to explaining the work and ministry of SDOP.

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Its work is made possible by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing


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