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Community activists Josh Nadzam, Tanya Torp offer two takes on healing powers of art

Josh Nadzam, left, appeared on Renee Shaw's 'Connections' on KET. He and Tanya Torp discussed (Photo from Facebook)

Activist Josh Nadzam, right, appeared on Renee Shaw’s ‘Connections’ on KET. He joined another activist, Tanya Torp, in discussing how disadvantaged individuals in Lexington can find healing through the arts.(Photo from Facebook)


By John Gregory
Special to KyForward

Creative expression might not seem like a high priority when you’re struggling to feed your children or find shelter for the night. But Tanya Torp and Josh Nadzam want to give disadvantaged individuals in Lexington the opportunity to find healing through the arts.

The two activists appeared on KET’s Connections recently to discuss their respective projects: Torp’s theatrical performance collaborative and Nadzam’s drive to launch a mobile art studio.

A challenging childhood

Nadzam attributes his community activism to his own impoverished upbringing in a housing project outside of Pittsburgh. His father, an alcoholic who attempted suicide several times, abandoned the family, leaving Nadzam and his mother to subsist on welfare and whatever minimum wage jobs she could secure.

At school and in their neighborhood, Nadzam says he was surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse. But at home, his mother encouraged her son to read, and he found solace in stories about successful athletes who experienced difficult childhoods. Nadzam also says he was fortunate to always have a home to go to.

“Even as bad as things were growing up, I’ve never been homeless,” Nadzam says. “That is a whole other level of despair and marginalization if you don’t have a home.”

Art on the move

Nadzam’s athleticism and dogged persistence eventually landed him a track scholarship at the University of Kentucky. He earned an undergraduate degree in social work in 2011, and followed up with a master’s in 2013.

Along the way Nadzam has made time to work for causes he finds important. He spent two nights on the street to raise money for a local homeless shelter, and he ran from Lexington to Frankfort to raise awareness about dating violence legislation. His latest venture called Art on the Move has him renovating a vintage trailer into a mobile classroom that can travel around Lexington offering art classes to at-risk children.

“When you’re poor, you’re always less than, you’re always given left-overs, you’re always getting neglected,” Nadzam says. “So that’s what we’re really trying to do is bring something special, and really try to change the morale, and show people that you do matter.”

Nadzam raised $8,000 on Kickstarter to pay for renovations to his trailer, and he says the city of Lexington is providing two years of operational funding for the project. He says he hopes to launch his Art on the Move trailer in July.

Helping young mothers succeed

Tanya Torp's (Photo from Facebook)

Tanya Torp touts Just Us Moms Performing, or JUMP!, a project designed to pair Step By Step clients with local female artists. (Photo from Facebook)

The Step By Step program helps at-risk youth by focusing on single moms and their children. In addition to providing basic services like babysitting, food, and housing, Step By Step also offers mentoring and counseling for young mothers aged 14 to 24.

“We work to just love all over them,” says Step By Step Program Director Tanya Torp. “We also help them to set small goals so that they can reach their larger goals in life.”

Torp says the organization has helped some clients get their GEDs and others to get into college. They also provide Bible studies for clients who are interested, as well as classes on financial literacy and healthy relationships. About 3,000 families have been helped by Step By Step in its 20-year history.

Taking their stories to the stage

A new initiative of Step By Step partners their clients with local female artists for a project called Just Us Moms Performing, or JUMP! For eight months the mothers will work with professional writers to conceptualize, write and perform theatrical pieces that tell their own stories. One such piece is an adaptation of the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise” that features multiple women reciting facts about children raised by single mothers combined with poignant details about the challenges of being one of those solo parents.

“[It’s to] show the audience [that] these are the statistics but these don’t define us,” says Faith Calhoun, a support group leader at Step By Step and JUMP! participant. “We’re not trying to be a statistic, we’re not trying to raise statistics. We don’t want our children to follow in the cycle of being a young parent. So for us it was a strengthening kind of exercise.”

Calhoun created her own piece about the sexual abuse she suffered in the first grade at the hands of her step-father. She says it was difficult to perform but she felt it was important to share her testimony of what happened.

Torp says the experience has been incredibly powerful for her clients as well as Step By Step’s staff and volunteers.

“I was just bawling all over the place just watching them tell their stories,” Torp says. “I can’t tell their story, but they can, and every single mom has a story.”

Connections airs each week on KET and KET2:

Fridays at 5/4 p.m. on KET2
Sundays at 1:30/12:30 p.m. on KET

You might also be interested in reading Everyday Heroes: Track star Josh Nadzam beats poverty, sets sights on life of service and Gena Bigler: Imagine how communities would thrive if we all followed ‘Team Torp’s’ example on KyForward.

John Gregory writes for the Kentucky Educational Television Content Service.

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