By Taylor Hartz
BU News Service
WASHINGTON—First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed the winners of the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program awards to the White House Friday – with the Boston Children’s Chorus among them.
The chorus was one of 12 recipients of the highest national honor to be awarded annually to after-school and out-of-school youth programs. Also honored Friday was Art Reach, another Massachusetts program operated by the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, which provides visual arts education to youth from a number of Cape Cod communities.
For winning the award, the Boston Children’s Chorus and Art Reach will each receive a $10,000 prize, along with a year of communication assistance and support from the president’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The latter committee was established in 1982 to advise the White House on cultural issues, including identifying key programs in need of support and recognizing excellence in the arts and humanities.
The first lady, who serves as honorary chairwoman of the committee, said the panel’s objective is to support programs that encourage not only artistic talent, but social skills and leadership qualities as well.
Founded in 2003, the Boston Children’s Chorus program offers training to over 450 singers from age seven to age 18, who make up 12 choirs in five Boston locations.
The program aims to bring in students of diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds from throughout the city. While training them musically, the program emphasizes youth leadership and mentoring as its members perform not only around Boston but nationally and internationally as well.
“Through these programs, young people are discovering their creative voices, developing a stronger sense of who they are as individuals, and gaining a deeper understanding of the world around them,” the first lady said of the programs honored Friday.
Amber Rodriguez, a 17-year-old student at Chelsea High School student joined David Howse, executive director of the chorus, in accepting the award from Mary Schmidt Campbell, vice chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Still bouncing with excitement after meeting the first lady, Rodriguez afterward expressed her gratitude and excitement for being honored in the nation’s capital.
While Rodriguez said she has been singing since she was born and loves the fact that the Boston Children’s Chorus gives her a place where she can share her voice, she emphasized that the program has helped her develop skills for all areas of her education – especially valuable as she begins the college admission process.
During the ceremony, Campbell noted that part of what made the chorus so worthy of the honor bestowed Friday was its influence with regard to higher education – 100 percent of program participants graduate from high school and are accepted to colleges, conservatories, and other post-secondary programs.
Additionally, Rodriguez said this program has helped her connect with her community. The Boston Children’s Chorus sang during the interfaith service held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross three days after the Boston Marathon bombings. President Obama and the first lady attended that service, addressing victims of the bombings and their families.
As a 17-year-old, Rodriguez said she did not think she could not have an impact on the community, but that singing with the choir that day had helped her to feel that she “played a role in the city’s healing process.”