By Libby Hopkins
The VSA program was started over 35 years ago by Jean Kennedy-Smith, sister of Eunice Kennedy, who started the Special Olympics. The program is based out of the Kennedy Center of the Arts and has programs in more than 35 states around the nation. Their mission is to create a society where people with disabilities can learn through participating in and enjoying the arts. VSA stands for Very Special Arts and the Florida affiliation of the program was started in 1981 by the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of State and was housed at FSU. In 1996, the office moved to its current home at the USF Tampa Campus. The program offers programs and activities in all 67 Florida counties.
The program is currently looking for a facility in the Brandon to hold their community art classes. Wendy Finklea is the Director of Programs for VSA and she hopes her program can soon call the Brandon community ‘home.’ “VSA believes in inclusion; it’s our mantra,” Finklea said. “We teach our artist and teachers in the community the best practices to include everyone at the same time, whatever the activity or the curriculum is and then we tie that into the classroom.” The program also partners with museums in the area to give the students in the program inspiration for their classroom project. Once the classroom project is complete, the student’s art work is unveiled to the community at an art opening at the museum that partnered with VSA. “It’s the first time a student in our program gets community recognition for their art work and it’s an amazing experience for them,” Finklea said.
Research has shown that students who are exposed to the arts at a young age flourish. The arts can be used as a great learning tool. The majority of the classes that are taught in the various communities throughout the state are mimicked from the classes that are held at VSA’s program at USF. One of the new classes being offered through VSA is an iPad music class. “The students are taught how to play music using different application, such as Garage Band,” Finklea said. The fees for the classes vary and VSA hold various fundraisers throughout the year to help cover some of the cost for the classes. They recently held a fundraiser concert featuring American Idol’s, Scott MacIntyre, at USF on October 18. If you would like to find out more about the program offered at VSA, you can visit their website at www.vsafl.org. If you have a space that you would like to let VSA use to hold classes at in Brandon, please contact Finklea at 974-0715.