Patel Conservatory Outreach Program Gives Life Skills to Adults with Disabilities


“I’m Amanda, and my movement is this!” A young woman with long brown hair and a big smile circles her arms.

Their teacher, Patel Conservatory theater education faculty member Sarah Berland, her dark curls bouncing, laughs along with the group, pushing them gently during this theater game to try something new, to express themselves in a different way, to make sure they are following instructions.

“And how do you feel?” she asks Amanda. “You have to put an emotion with it, remember.”

“Um, I pick angry!”

The other adults in the circle with Amanda smile and nod, telling her how good she’s doing. In unison, they circle their arms and say, “AMANDA. ANGRY.” Then the whole group dissolves into peals of laughter.

The next person, Walter, shakes his hips. He’s silly. The next is Patricia, who gives a double thumbs-up, she’s excited. They take turns: sad, shy, joyful, mad. After every person, the group laughs and applauds.

So goes another monthly workshop at the Patel Conservatory for the adults at MacDonald Training Center (MTC), a Tampa-based non-profit which serves adults with a wide variety of intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities.

Through their games and improv in this hour, these loving, lovable adults learn emotional cues, positive responses to unexpected change and collaboration—all skills they need to land a job, stay employed and live with independence.

MTC offers many excellent services, but they do not have enough funding for an arts program. Seeing the invaluable benefit of arts education to MTC’s mission, The Straz welcomed them as a community partner in 2009 to help them meet this need. Funded by annual donors, the Straz Center’s community partnership program places much needed resources—faculty and curriculum—with organizations and people who need them most.

“Working with these students is highly rewarding,” says Berland. “Every month I continue to learn from them. And now, this is their conservatory, too. They take classes here, and it is a place that inspires their creativity. The outreach has provided them a greater sense of belonging to the community.”

You see, every day, far from the footlights and spotlights of our main stages, the Straz Center is hard at work improving the quality of life for an untold number of people throughout the Tampa Bay area. Engaging in the arts saves lives, changes lives and spreads joy from one person to another.

For the adults at MacDonald Training Center, Straz Center annual donors give them the power to write their own stories and affect other lives, so our million little stories become a million more.

Help us continue to provide transformative outreach opportunities like this one by making a gift to the Straz Center today.

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