For more than 12 years, the Kander family has been one of the most committed volunteer teams in Oakland County, Michigan 4-H Youth Programs. Their involvement began with the founding of the Class Act Drama 4-H Club, in which diverse groups of young people experienced Shakespeare by becoming actors in full-length plays. Lisa Kander, a mother of four children who also has an extraordinary ability to help any child understand the text of Shakespeare and other playwrights, directed the plays. Her productions have included children as young as 4 and have consistently involved young people in all aspects of the production, from lights to sound to props to costuming to direction.
Lisa’s 4-H Club is a long-term educational process that involves young people in addressing the challenge of diminishing funding for public schools, especially in urban areas. Many of the schools in the community have been forced to eliminate funding for their arts programs, leaving students with few opportunities to express themselves creatively. The loss of theatre arts is particularly devastating, because it removes the opportunity for young people to build teamwork and problem-solving skills in the course of mounting a production. Live theatre helps bring literature alive for audiences in an interdisciplinary way, and its elimination from public schools has implications on a larger scale.
The Kander family recognized this issue and took action by volunteering to bring their theatre productions to public events and programs. They taught performance art during summer camps for at-risk youth in elementary and secondary schools and at the countywide Youth Summit. They created shorter programs, such as “Folktales and Legends” and “Remember the Ladies” to encourage literacy at public library programs.
Their commitment to serve the community is matched only by their commitment to diversity. Class Act Drama 4-H Club performances have explored themes of Native American life, feminist perspectives of history and racial injustice. They have maintained an open membership policy and recruited diverse families to participate in the program. The Club began with just a few families in 1990. Today there are an excess of 100 club members, and they have earned the local 4-H Community Service Award for six consecutive years.
The impact of the Kander family’s vision and volunteerism can be summed up by the words of a local elementary school principal: “ Most of the children in the school have few models of success in their lives. The young actors showed her children that there is no such thing as ‘too young’ to make a difference. The performance helped the kids believe in their own abilities and recognize that literature can be fun.”